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THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 



THE MYTH 

OF THE 

NEGRO PAST 



MELVILLE J. HERSKOVITS 

Professor of Anthropology 
Northwestern University 




HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS 

New York London 



THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Copyright^ 1941 ', by Melville J. Herskovits 
Printed in the United States of America 

All rights in this book are reserved. 
No part of the book may be reproduced in any 
manner whatsoever without written permission 
except in the case of brief quotations embodied 
in critical articles and reviews. For information 
address Harper & Brothers 



To the men and women who, in Africa 

and the New World, have helped me 

understand their ways of life 



CONTENTS 



FOREWORD ix 

PREFACE xiii 

I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS i 

II. THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS 33 

III. THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 54 

IV. ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 86 
V. THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS no 

VI. THE CONTEMPORARY SCENE: AFRICANISMS IN SECU- 
LAR LIFE 143 

VII. THE CONTEMPORARY SCENE: AFRICANISMS IN RE- 
LIGIOUS LIFE 207 

VIII. THE CONTEMPORARY SCENE: LANGUAGE AND THE 

ARTS 261 

IX. CONCLUSIONS 292 

REFERENCES 300 

APPENDIX. DIRECTIVES FOR FURTHER STUDY 326 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 341 



FOREWORD 



This volume is the first published result of a Study which was an- 
nounced in the Annual Report of the President of Carnegie Cor- 
poration of New York for 1938 in the following terms: 

The Corporation has for some time felt the need of a general study 
of the Negro in the United States, not only as a guide to its own activ- 
ities, but for broader reasons. It appeared to be essential that such a 
study be made under the direction of a person who would be free from 
the presuppositions and emotional charges which we all share to a greater 
or less degree on this subject, and the Corporation, therefore, looked 
outside the United States for a distinguished student of the social 
sciences who would be available to organize and direct the project. It 
is a pleasure to announce that Dr. Karl Gunnar Myrdal has been 
granted a leave of absence from the University of Stockholm to enable 
him to accept the invitation of the Trustees to undertake this work. 

Dr. Myrdal arrived in New York in September, 1938, and re- 
mained here until the European situation made necessary his return 
to Sweden in May, 1940. During this period he requested some 
twenty American students of the Negro to prepare memoranda on 
all the more important aspects of Negro life in America, and on 
numerous minor ones. Most of these memoranda were unfinished at 
the time of his departure, but the majority were completed by the 
following September. Uncertainty concerning the date of Dr. Myr- 
dal's return demanded reconsideration of the original arrangement 
which provided that the right to use all materials collected in the 
course of the Study should be vested in the contributors after the 
main report was published. Because of the unavoidable delay in the 
completion of Dr. Myrdal's own work, it was decided to facilitate 
the publication of some of the memoranda in advance of the main 
report, and the undersigned Committee was appointed to advise in 
the selection of those contributions most nearly ready for publica- 
tion. Dr. Samuel A. Stouffer of the University of Chicago, who 
acted as executive officer of the Study during Dr. Myrdal's absence, 
was invited by the Committee to serve as its secretary. 

In general the memoranda were not designed for publication in 
the form written. Contributors' instructions were to prepare work- 

iz 



x FOREWORD 

ing memoranda rapidly and in a full and easy style which would 
make them most useful for Dr. Myrdal's purposes. Thus, by defini- 
tion, they were not to be formal, balanced manuscripts ready for 
the printer and the public. The Committee found that every manu- 
script submitted offered significant contributions. In serving the 
purposes of the Study so well, the contributors necessarily subordi- 
nated their individual publication interests to the interests of the 
central project. This is evidence of unselfish team-play which deserves 
respect and commendation. The Committee, however, was pleasantly 
surprised to find an appreciable number of manuscripts so near the 
publication stage that it could proceed with plans for the prompt pub- 
lication of a group of monographs in advance of the main report. 
It is possible that other contributors will later publish additional 
monographs and articles as a result of their association with the 
Study. Dr. Myrdal returned to the United States in March, 1941, and 
it is hoped that his own report may be released some time during 
1942. 

It is on the whole logical that the first monograph to be published 
as a result of this Study should be concerned with the African back- 
ground of the American Negro. There is an understandable tendency 
in our civilization to order our thoughts with reference to sequence 
in time and to think in terms of origins. Obviously Negroes were 
not brought to the United States as culturally naked people, and 
the problem is to determine what of their African heritage has been 
retained to influence life in America today. We may concede that 
Jhe greatest significance of the African heritage lies in the fact that 
most^qf it : quickly and inevitably was lost before the ways of life 
^ the dominant white-man could -Be -learned. Yet cultural differen- 
tials are so important in the social adjustment of different peoples 
to each other that the retention even of cultural fragments from 
Africa may introduce serious problems into Negro- white relations. 
On the positive side, the origin of the distinctive cultural contribu- 
tions of the Negro to American life must not be overlooked. Fur- 
thermore, and entirely apart from immediate practical considera- 
tions, the social scientist can learn about the general nature of 
cultural development from the cultural history of the Negro in 
America. 

Every major activity in the career of Dr. Melville J. Herskovits 
of Northwestern University as an anthropologist has contributed 
to his qualifications for the preparation of this monograph on The 
Myth of the Negro Past. He has studied the physical as well as the 



FOREWORD xi 

cultural traits of the Negro, and has made outstanding contributions 
to knowledge in both fields. His investigations have included work 
not only in the United States but also in Africa, South America 
and the West Indies. Before this book is in print he will be at work 
in Brazil. His lifelong conviction that the study of the Negro in the 
United States requires also comparable study of the Negro in Africa 
and in all parts of the Western Hemisphere has made possible this 
monograph, the first comprehensive analysis of the current beliefs 
concerning the extent and significance of traits of African origin 
persisting in the United States. 

SHELBY M. HARRISON 
WILLIAM F. OGBURN 
DONALD YOUNG, Chairman 
July 25, 1941 



PREFACE 



This work represents the documentation of an hypothesis, developed 
in the course of two decades of research. That the scientific study of 
the Negro and attempts to meliorate the interracial situation in the 
United States have been handicapped by a failure to consider ade- 
quately certain functioning aspects of Negro life has become increas- 
ingly apparent as this investigation has gone on. Problems in Negro 
research attacked without an assessment of historic depth, and a 
willingness to regard the historical past of an entire people as the 
equivalent of its written history, can clearly be seen to have made for 
confusion and error in interpretation, and misdirected judgment in 
evaluating practical ends. 

The approach in the ensuing pages, though oriented toward the 
study of the Negro in the United States, takes into full account the 
West African, South American, and West Indian data, lacking 
which, I am convinced, true perspective on the values of Negro life 
in this country cannot be had, either by the student treating of the 
larger problems of cultural change or by the practical man seeking 
to lessen racial tensions. While it has been necessary to throw into 
relief the neglect by others of such background materials in favor of 
nonhistorical statistical analyses and ad hoc remedies, this is riot 
because a full knowledge of existing conditions is held unimportant 
or that the urgent problems to be faced by Negroes and whites alike 
are unrecognized. On the contrary, this study has attempted to show 
that present-day situations are more complex in their underlying 
causes than has been grasped and that, whether in analyzing intel- 
lectual or practical problems, every consideration calls for insight 
into the influence of pre- American patterns. 

A word may be said regarding the documentation itself. Only 
those works that have had the widest influence in the past and those 
that are the most cited today have been given extended treatment, 
for these are the sources upon which academic opinion, at least, is 
based. The citations that have been made are those which have the 
sharpest bearing on the problem as envisaged. Where antiquarian, 
quixotic, or speculative comments have been included, it is only 
because they have produced a literary lineage. It would have been 

xiii 



xiv PREFACE 

possible, were polemics the aim of this discussion, to trace a con- 
sistent genealogy for many of the ideas that, with slight qualifica- 
tion, have come to us in recent "authoritative" presentations. It 
would have been equally possible, with the use of the materials from 
the field study conducted in Trinidad by Frances S. Herskovits and 
myself in 1939, to dissect current views on, let us say, the Negro 
family, in terms of attitudes and customs prevailing there that are 
directly comparable to those found in the United States. But since 
these materials are as yet unpublished and, moreover, since it was 
necessary to keep this study within manageable compass, this was 
not done. 

I am deeply indebted to Frances S. Herskovits, whose many 
months devoted to exhaustive reading made available the materials 
for a control of the literature. Without this reading, which I my- 
self was unable to undertake because of academic commitments, this 
study could not have been made, ^or could it have been delegated to 
another, for, since she has participated with me in all the ethno- 
graphic field studies in my research program, she was uniquely 
equipped to discern correspondences and to evaluate interpretations. 

These pages have been written at the suggestion of Dr. Gunnar 
Myrdal for the Study of the Negro in America which was insti- 
tuted by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The survey char- 
acter of the Study did not permit an intensive ethnological study 
of a southern community to be made, against which to project pre- 
vailing theories that expound Negro mores in the United States. It 
is gratifying that, though this analysis was undertaken with mis- 
givings as to what the heterogeneous literature might yield, there 
did, in effect, emerge in clear outline a group of mythological cate- 
gories that define the greater part of the literature in this field. 

MELVILLE J. HERSKOVITS 
Evanston, Illinois 
August 24, 1940 



THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 



Chapter I 
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 



The myth of the Negro past is one of the principal supports of race 
prejudice in this country. Unrecognized in its efficacy, it rationalizes 
discrimination in everyday contact between Negroes and whites, in- 
fluences the shaping of policy where Negroes are concerned, and 
affects the trends of research by scholars whose theoretical approach, 
methods, and systems of thought presented to students are in har- 
mony with it. Where all its elements are not accepted, no conflict 
ensues even when, as in popular belief, certain tenets run contrary 
to some of its component parts, since its acceptance is so little sub- 
ject to question that contradictions are not likely to be scrutinized 
too closely. The system is thus to be regarded as mythological in 
the technical sense of the term, for, as will be made apparent, it 
provides the sanction for deep-seated belief which gives coherence to 
behavior. 

This myth of the Negro past, which validates the concept of 
Negro inferiority, may be outlined as follows: 

j. Negroes are naturally of a childlike character, and adjust easily 
to the most unsatisfactory social situations, which they accept readily 
and even happily, in contrast to the American Indians, who pre- 
ferred extinction to slavery; 

2. Only the poorer stock of Africa ivas enslaved, the more intelli- 
gent members of the African communities raided having been clever 
enough to elude the slavers' nets; 

j. Since the Negroes were brought from all parts of the African 
continent, spoke diverse languages, represented greatly differing 
bodies of custom, and, as a matter of policy, were distributed in the 
New World so as to lose tribal identity, no least common denom- 
inator of understanding or behavior could have possibly been worked 
out by them; 



2 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

4. Even granting enough Negroes of a given tribe had the oppor- 
tunity to live together, and tltat they had the will and ability to con- 
tinue their customary modes of behavior, the cultures of Africa were 
so savage and relatively so low in the scale of human civilization 
that the apparent superiority of European customs as observed in 
the behavior of their masters, would hazrc caused and actually did 
cause them to give up such aboriginal traditions as they may other- 
wise have desired to preserve; 

5. The Negro is thus a man without a past. 

Naturally, there have been reactions against this point of view, 
and in such works as Carter Woodson's The African Background 
Outlined and W. E. B. Du Bois' Black Folk, Then and Now 
serious attempts have been made to comprehend the entire picture 
of the Negro, African and New World, in its historical and func- 
tional setting. In still another category of those who disagree with 
this system are writers whose reactions, presented customarily with 
little valid documentation, center attention on Africa principally to 
prove that "Negro culture" can take its place among the "higher" 
civilizations of mankind. Scientific thought has for some time ab- 
jured attempts at the comparative evaluation of cultures, so that 
these works are significant more as manifestations of the psychology 
of interracial conflict than as contributions to serious thought. They 
are in essence a part of the literature of polemics, and as such need 
be given little attention here. 

It must also be recognized that not every writer who has made 
statements of the type oulined above has accepted or, if he has ac- 
cepted, has stressed all the elements in the system ; and that popular 
opinion often underscores the African character of certain aspects 
of the behavior of Negroes, emphasizing the savage and exotic 
nature of the presumed carry-overs. Yet on the intellectual level, a 
long line of trained specialists have reiterated, in whole or in part, 
the assumptions concerning the Negro past that have been sketched. 
As a consequence, diverse as are the contributions of these writers 
in approach, method, and materials, they have, with but few excep- 
tions, contributed to the perpetuation of the legend concerning* the 
quality of Negro aboriginal endowment and its lack of stamina 
under contact. We may best begin our documentation of this system 
with a series of citations concerning the final, culminating element, 
leaving to later pages excerpts which demonstrate the tenaciousness 
of the other propositions that lead up to this last point. 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 



Though the historical relationship between the present-day Ne- 
groes of the United States and Africa admits of no debate, there is 
little scientific knowledge of what has happened to this African cul- 
tural heritage in the New World. Statements bearing on the absence 
or the retention of Africanisms, even though these are drawn out 
of differing degrees of familiarity with the patterns of Negro life 
in this country, share one character in common. That is, their au- 
thors, whether lay or scholarly, not only are unencumbered by first- 
hand experience with the African civilizations involved, but the 
majority of them know or, at all events, utilize but few, if any, of 
the works wherein these cultures are described ; while such works as 
are cited in documentation are commonly the older sources, which 
today are of little scientific value. 

Scholarly opinion presents a fairly homogeneous conception as to 
African survivals in the United States. On the whole, specialists 
tend to accept and stress the view that Africanisms have disap- 
peared as a result of the pressures exerted by the experience of 
slavery on all aboriginal modes of thought or behavior. As a starting 
point for subsequent analysis, a few examples of this body of thought 
may here be given to make available its major assumptions. Repre- 
sentative of this point of view is the following statement of R. E. 
Park, who in these terms summarizes a position he has held con- 
sistently over the years : 

My own impression is that the amount of African tradition which 
the Negro brought to the United States was very small. In fact, there is 
every reason to believe, it seems to me, that the Negro, when he landed 
in the United States, left behind him almost everything but his dark 
complexion and his tropical temperament. It is very difficult to find in 
the South today anything that can be traced directly back to Africa. 1 

E. F. Frazier, in his study of the Negro family, stressed this posi- 
tion in a passage where, speaking of the "scraps of memories, which 
form only an insignificant part of the growing body of traditions in 
Negro families" and which "are what remains of the African 
heritage/* he says: 

Probably never before in history has a people been so nearly com- 
pletely stripped of its social heritage as the Negroes who were brought 

1 For all notes see References beginning p. 300. 



4 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

to America. Other conquered races have continued to worship their 
household gods within the intimate circle of their kinsmen. But Ameri- 
can slavery destroyed household gods and dissolved the bonds of sym- 
pathy and affection between men of the same blood and household. Old 
men and women might have brooded over memories of their African 
homeland, but they could not change the world about them. Through 
force of circumstances, they had to acquire a new language, adopt new 
habits of labor, and take over, however imperfectly, the folkways of the 
American environment. Their children, who knew only the American 
environment, soon forgot the few memories that had been passed on to 
them and developed motivations and modes of behavior in harmony with 
the New World. Their children's children have often recalled with skep- 
ticism the fragments of stories concerning Africa which have been pre- 
served in their families. But, of the habits and customs as well as the 
hopes and fears that characterized the life of their f orebearers in Africa, 
nothing remains. 2 

Another student of the American Negro, E. B. Reuter, reviewing 
Frazier's work, gives unconditional assent to the point of view ex- 
pressed in the preceding passage, when he writes : 

The . . . Negro people . . . were brought to America in small con- 
signments from many parts of the African continent and over a long 
period of time. In the course of capture, importation, and enslavement 
they lost every vestige of the African culture. The native languages 
disappeared immediately and so completely that scarcely a word of 
African origin found its way into English, owing to the dispersion, to 
the accidental or intentional separation of tribal stocks, and to the sup- 
pression of religious exercises. The supernatural beliefs and practices 
completely disappeared; the native forms of family life and the codes 
and customs of sex control were destroyed by the circumstances of slave 
life; and procreation and the relations of the sexes were reduced to a 
simple and primitive level, so with every element of the social heritage. 3 

In Charles S. Johnson's analysis of present-day Negro plantation 
life, the comment on background similarly follows the accepted 
position : 

The Negro of the plantation came into the picture with a completely 
broken cultural heritage. He came directly from Africa or indirectly 
from Africa through the West Indies. There had been for him no 
preparation for, and no organized exposure to, the dominant and ap- 
proved patterns of American culture. What he knew of life was what he 
could learn from other slaves or from the examples set by the white 
planters themselves. In the towns where this contact was close there was 
some effect, such as has many times been noted in the cultural differ- 
ences between the early Negro house servants and the plantation hands. 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 5 

On the plantation, however, their contact was a distant one, regulated by 
the strict "etiquette" of slavery and the code of the plantation. 4 

The same point of view concerning the retention of the African 
background is expressed by nonacademic specialists in the field, and 
by those professional students whose concern is with particular seg- 
ments of culture wherein Africanisms may have persisted. Embree, 
who translates the physical homogeneity of the mixed Negroes of 
the United States into the concept of a "brown American" type, and 
expresses the opinion that, "it is astonishing how completely the 
Negro has been cut off from his African home," 5 explains the 
process in these terms : 

Torn from their previous environment, Africans found themselves 
grouped in the homesteads and plantations of America with fellow 
blacks from divergent tribes whose customs differed widely, whose lan- 
guages even they could not understand. A new life had to be formed 
and was formed in the pattern of the New World. The old African 
tribal society was completely destroyed. From membership in their 
primitive social units, Negroes were forced into the organization re- 
quired by the plantation and by the demands of the particular American 
families to which they were attached. The only folkways that had ele- 
ments in common for all the slaves were those they found about them 
in America. The Africans began to take hold of life where they could. 
They began to speak English, to take up the Christian religion, to fall 
into the labor pattern demanded by American needs and customs, to fit 
themselves as best they could into all the mores of the New World. 6 

Cleanth Brooks, directing the techniques of his special field, pho- 
netics, to the study of Negro dialect, concludes that, "in almost 
every case, the specifically negro forms turn out to be older English 
forms which the negro must have taken originally from the white 
man, and which he has retained after the white man has begun to 
lose them." And from this he derives the methodological principle 
on which his research is based : "For the purpose of this study the 
speech of the negro and of the white will be considered as one." It 
is clear that no African element is granted in the background of the 
unified mode of speech, which is assumed to be solely European in 
origin, for no single reference appears in his work to any African 
phonetic system. 7 Concerning the speech of the Sea Island Negroes, 
Guy B. Johnson writes in not dissimilar terms : 

Gullah has been called the most African of any of our dialects, yet it 
can be traced in practically every detail to English dialect speech. There 
has been a popular belief in this country to the effect that Southern 
white speech is what it is because of the Negro. This idea needs to be 



6 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

reversed, for both the Negro and the white man in the South speak 
English as they learned it from the latter's ancestors. 8 

Or, to take another instance in a still different field, we find that 
Doyle, in his detailed study of etiquette as it functions in determin- 
ing the pattern of Negro-white relations in the South, maintains the 
conventional position by implication when he begins his historical 
analysis with the period of slavery, and says nothing even as to the 
possible existence of codes of etiquette in Africa itself. 



If in this discussion assumptions are made that diverge from the 
point of view of those cited, and of the many other students holding 
this same position left uncited, these are to be regarded as deriving 
directly from facts discovered over an extended period of research. 
Whatever disagreement exists in basic approach is, indeed, the result 
of opportunity to investigate at first hand certain New World Negro 
societies outside the United States. It was investigation on this 
broader base, wherein the problem of Africanisms in present-day 
Negro behavior was only incidental, that forced revision of an 
hypothesis which, in the initial stages of research, there was no 
tendency to question. 10 

The nature of this experience may be sketched here, to make more 
explicit how research findings repeatedly forced revision of prevail- 
ing hypotheses. The citations given in the preceding note represent 
a point of view deriving from studies oriented toward the analysis 
of racial crossing in the United States ; that is to say, they are based 
on observations made during investigations wherein the major issues 
lay outside the relevant sociological field. In studying race-crossing, 
however, it became apparent that without comparable measurements 
from ancestral African populations, the findings must have less 
value than were such data available. Consequently, ethnological re- 
searches, aimed at discovering the precise localities from which 
these African ancestral populations had been derived, were instituted. 

Out of this program has come firsthand field study, of New World 
Negroes in Dutch Guiana, in Haiti, and in Trinidad. Extended re- 
search has also been carried on into the history of slaving, and close 
contact has been maintained with specialists in Negro studies in the 
countries of South America and with those devoted ethnological 
amateurs who, in several of the colonies of the Caribbean, have been 
impelled by a desire to know more of the folk about them to con- 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 7 

tribute to the store of data on New World Negro cultures. From 
the need to trace African origins has come research in Africa itself, 
where, in Nigeria, the Gold Coast, and more especially in Dahomey 
it has been possible to study at first hand the important ancestral 
civilizations. Through this continually widening experience has 
grown recognition of the need for scientific reinvestigation of the 
problem of the retention of Africanisms in the New World in the 
United States itself. It was through this same experience, also, that 
a sense of the practical significance of the conclusions to be drawn 
from such investigations for the interracial situation as it exists at 
the present time was developed, especially as such conclusions can 
give to those concerned with everyday issues a sense of the historical 
depth in which these issues are lodged, and the assumptions under- 
lying the thinking of most Americans, white or Negro, regarding 
the values involved. 

At this point it must be again emphasized that exact knowledge 
touching survivals of African traditions and beliefs in the behavior 
of present-day Negroes in the United States and elsewhere in the 
New World, or of the effect of these survivals on the daily life of 
their carriers, is not at hand. Materials are scattered and fragment- 
ary, where they are not altogether lacking; but the controversy 
aroused when the very problem is broached attests its vitality and 
its importance. 11 

The study has progressed far enough, however, to indicate some 
of the main lines of approach. We know today that the analysis of 
African survivals among the Negroes of the United States involves 
far more than the commonly attempted correlation of traits of Negro 
behavior in this country with aboriginal tradition in Africa itself. 
On the contrary, such an analysis, to be adequate, requires a series 
of intermediate steps. A knowledge of the tribal origins of the 
Negroes of this country is indispensable if the variation in custom 
found among the tribes from which the African ancestry was drawn 
is to be properly evaluated; and this is the more to be desired since 
almost all those who write of the Negro make a capital point of this 
variation variation in terms of the African continent as a whole, 
however, rather than of that relatively restricted area from which 
the slaves were predominantly derived. An analysis of the slave 
trade as revealed in contemporary documents and in African tradi- 
tions, to give us a knowledge of any selection it may have exercised, 
and the reaction of the slaves to their status, is similarly essential. 
The mechanisms of adjusting the newly arrived Africans to their 
situation as slaves, and the extent to which these operated to permit 



8 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

the retention of old habits, or to force the taking over of new modes 
of behavior, or to make for a mingling of old patterns and newly 
experienced alternatives, must be understood as thoroughly as the 
data will permit. 

Nor may any investigation on these lines confine itself to the 
United States alone. For if any methodological caution has emerged 
from exploratory research, it is that a knowledge of the Negro cul- 
tures of the Caribbean islands and of Latin America is indispensable. 
The matter has been well put by Phillips : 

As regards negro slavery the history of the West Indies is insepa- 
rable from that of North America. In them the plantation system origi- 
nated and reached its greatest scale, and from them the institution of 
slavery was extended to the continent. The industrial system on the 
islands, and particularly on those occupied by the British, is accord- 
ingly instructive as an introduction and a parallel to the continental 
regime. 12 

From the point of view of the study of Africanisms, also, it is as 
important to know the variation in Negro customary behavior, tra- 
ditions, and beliefs over the entire New World as it is to understand 
the variation in the ancestral cultures of Africa itself, for only 
against such a background can the student project a clear picture of 
what has resulted from the differing historical experiences that con- 
stitute the essential control in the research procedure. And only with 
this background mastered are those mores of Negro life in the 
United States which deviate from majority sanctions to be realis- 
tically analyzed. 

The discussion in these pages will therefore be oriented in accord- 
ance with these principles. Our initial concern will be the African 
background, the processes of enslavement, and the reaction of the 
Negro to slavery. The accommodation of Negroes to their New 
World setting and the resultant variation in the degree of accultura- 
tion over the entire area where slavery existed will then be indicated, 
while the aspects of Negro culture where Africanisms have been 
most retained and those where the least of aboriginal endowment 
is manifest, and the reasons for these differentials, will be pointed 
to show the complexity of what in general has hitherto been consid- 
ered a single problem. Finally, further steps in research will be out- 
lined to the end of attaining a better understanding of the processes 
of culture as a whole, and of an attack on the social issues presented 
by the Negro in the United States, in so far as the elements of con- 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 9 

flict in the interracial situation are sharpened by 'beliefs concerning 
the quality of the cultural background of the Negro. 



Before turning to an analysis of available materials, let us con- 
sider the theoretical problems and practical issues on which our 
broad approach can throw some light, indicating at the outset the 
questions of most concern to students of culture for which the data 
of our investigation have relevance. 

The problems whose answers are to be sought in the study of 
data from many civilizations fall under several general heads. The 
organization of human civilization as a whole, and the interrelation 
and integration of the several aspects of culture when combined 
into a given body of traditions, technologies and beliefs, are the 
most fundamental points at issue. The manner of cultural borrow- 
ing and, where possible, the circumstances under which an inter- 
change of tradition takes place are similarly important, as is the 
related problem of the degree to which any culture represents inven- 
tions originating from within or taken over from foreign sources. 
The relation between culture and its human carriers, focused espe- 
cially on the manner in which the cultural setting of an individual 
conditions not only his general mode of life but the organization of 
his personality and the character of his motor habits, has in recent 
years come to the fore as a significant problem. Finally, the question 
of the degree to which the individual, admittedly in large measure 
the creature of his culture, can influence it while adapting himself 
to its patterns brings up the essential question of the various forces 
making for cultural change and cultural conservatism. 

The comparative study of culture, like intensive analyses of in- 
dividual civilizations, has in the past attempted to base its hypotheses 
on data from the nonhistoric peoples those nonliterate folk termed 
"primitive" who are relatively but little disturbed by European 
influence. Until recent times, students have been reluctant to include 
in their programs of investigation the consideration of changes which 
have occurred, and are taking place as a result of the contact of these 
nonhistoric peoples with the historic cultures under European 
colonial expansion and the westerly march of the American frontier. 
Yet for the study of problems of cultural dynamics and of social in- 
tegration, of objective patternings and of psychological interrela- 
tions, the contact situations have much of value to offer. For here 
the conclusions from the study of relatively undisturbed and more 



io THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

static societies may be taken into the laboratory of observable change. 
Diffusion in process, the forces that make for cultural stability or 
instability, the reactions of individuals to new situations, the devel- 
opment of new orientations, the rise of new meanings and new 
values in life all these may be observed where a people are in con- 
tinuous contact with modes of life other than their own. What is 
accepted and what rejected, the influence of force as against mere 
exposure or verbal persuasion, and the effect on human personalities 
of living under a dual, nonintegrated system of directives may be 
analyzed under ideal conditions for observing and recording the 
pertinent data. 

Social studies of this type have in recent years come to be desig- 
nated as acculturation studies, and it is as studies in acculturation 
that research into the problem of African survivals in the behavior 
of New World Negroes may be looked to to make their greatest 
contribution to the understanding of the nature and processes of 
culture as a whole. Acculturation has been most comprehensively 
defined as the study of " those phenomena which result when groups 
of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first- 
hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original cultural pat- 
terns of either or both groups." 13 It is unnecessary here to examine 
the implications of this definition or the methods of studying these 
contact situations, as these matters have been treated elsewhere. 14 
At this point it need only be recalled that by taking his cultural data 
into the laboratory provided by the historical situation, the social 
scientist may test his hypotheses in reference to conditions subject 
to historic validation; to obtain, that is, something of the control 
that is the essence of scientific method. 

That the Negro peoples in the New World offer unusual oppor- 
tunities for research has been remarked by several students. Sir 
Harry H. Johnston, in the volume wherein he reports a visit to the 
West Indies and the United States in igio, 15 shows with clarity how 
rich a yield can be provided by knowledge of the ancestral conti- 
nent when directed toward the New World scene. Despite the short- 
ness of his stay, and the undisciplined observation and analysis of 
data that here, as in his other works, characterize the writings of 
this soldier, writer, and artist, his book is illuminating. For it demon- 
strates how much in the way of aboriginal tradition exists in West 
Indian and South American regions where, in disregard of even its 
surface manifestations, it has been overlooked by those students from 
the United States who, without grounding in African cultures and 
equipped only with the hypothesis of the disappearance pf African 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS n 

customs as a frame of reference, have tended to minimize African 
retentions. W. M. Macmillan, a South African, also realized the 
closeness of affiliation of the West Indies with Africa though his 
concern was with the special socio-economic problems of the British 
possessions and he indicates the importance of service for colonial 
officials in the islands before their tour of duty in Africa itself. 16 
Perhaps the earliest student in the United States to point out the 
importance of research in the West Indies was U. G. Weatherly. He 
stressed the significance of "social groups in an insular environ- 
ment,'* particularly where, as here, an historical record is at hand 
to aid in determining the experience of the people, and where con- 
tact with the outside world and other factors such as "internal revo- 
lutions" or "radical shifts in control from the outside" have made 
for "something more than rectilineal development." The "smaller 
West Indian Islands, extending from St. Thomas to the South 
American coast," according to him, "possess many of these charac- 
teristics." Here the present culture is the result of contact between 
Africans and Europeans of many nationalities, and their historical 
experience has been that of transfer from one of these European 
powers to another, with consequent historically known changes in 
cultural impulses. In addition, with the "European population as a 
fluctuating and diminishing element, there remain as major factors 
the Negro and the East Indian." The method and value of study in 
these islands is then indicated in the following terms : 

Systematic research on the problems here outlined would of necessity 
be a cooperative undertaking. It would call for specialists in social tech- 
nology, ethnology, culture, history, agricultural economics, psychology 
and education. The most obvious appeal of such a study would be that 
of practical problems : and yet it is possible that the most valuable re- 
sults might ceme from the opportunity of working out some of the 
principles of pure social science. These communities, by reason of their 
isolation and peculiar cultural status, offer a nearer approach to social 
experimentation than cosmopolitan groups of the continental areas and 
are no doubt better adapted to the elaboration of a special methodology 
for the social sciences. The units are sufficiently small and detached to 
be easily dealt with, and the social forces at work are less muddled than 
in the complex environment of larger groups. 17 

Park likewise has called attention to the research possibilities pre- 
sented by the Negro, though he does not in this place envisage the 
problem as falling outside the limits of the United States : 

For a study of the acculturation process, there are probably no mate- 
rials more complete and accessible than those offered by the history of 



12 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

the American Negro. No other representatives of a primitive race have 
had so prolonged and so intimate an association with European civiliza- 
tion, and still preserved their racial identity. Among no other people 
is it possible to find so many stages of culture existing contemporane- 
ously. 18 

In a later paper 19 Park considers the resources of the West Indies 
for such research. Reuter, who phrases his conception of the prob- 
lem in these words, also holds comparative study to be of im- 
portance : 

For this scientific study the Negroes in America are valuable above 
most other social groups. They represent various stages of cultural 
development. In the group are men and women highly and fully edu- 
cated and defined, persons who have thoroughly assimilated the Euro- 
pean cultural heritage and have in some respects added to it. At the 
opposite extreme are persons but slightly removed from the African 
culture level. There are other groups of longer time in America but 
whose residence in the isolated regions of the hinterland has so re- 
tarded the assimilative process that they are still, in many respects, out- 
side the modern culture. There are Negroes in America who speak 
dialects hardly intelligible to outsiders. ... In the group it is possible 
to study the evolution of human and social institutions in process. 
Almost every stage in cultural evolution may be seen in coincident 
process of becoming. What must usually be studied by an historic 
method may here be studied by an observational and scientific proce- 
dure. 20 

From the point of view of the methods, objectives, and achieve- 
ment to be discussed in ensuing pages, these earlier proposals, as 
we shall see, must be regarded as eddies in the principal stream of 
interest of the authors and their colleagues in the social sciences. 
Certainly these formulations have stimulated no exploration of the 
problems sketched; and it is of some importance to examine into 
the cause or causes that have determined this. 

If we refer once again to the assumption of American students 
that Africanisms have failed to survive under contact with European 
civilization, we at once come upon a valuable clue. For, with this 
approach, the question in West Indian research becomes not, "What 
has happened to the aboriginal cultural endowments of those con- 
cerned in the contact of Africans and Europeans?" but rather, "Since 
African culture has given way before European contact, to what 
extent does the resulting adjustment indicate inherent aptitudes for 
specific forms of tradition, and what light can research throw on 
the innate ability of Negroes to handle European civilization?" The 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 13 

answer to this latter query is patent. It needs no training in scientific 
method to discover that Negroes in the New World have mastered 
European culture where opportunity has permitted; or that, where 
their modes of behavior diverge most strikingly from those of the 
majority, the reasons for this can be phrased in such terms as "isola- 
tion," "discrimination," and the like. 

In the minds of these students, however, the major problem has 
been the obvious one of racial aptitudes and limitations, as, for ex- 
ample, is to be seen in the following : 

Now the Negro belongs perhaps to the most docile and modifiable of 
all races. He readily takes the tone and color of his social environment, 
assimilating to the dominant culture with little resistance. Further, he 
is ordinarily, though not quite correctly, assumed to have brought with 
him from Africa little cultural equipment of his own. If culture is dif- 
fused only through contact, there is here a means of following, in the 
experience of an especially susceptible people, the processes of trans- 
formation which different types of association have generated. If the 
racial theory is sound, race traits ought here to have persisted; or at 
least definitely modified the new influences with which the dominant 
European peoples have brought the Negro in contact. 21 

Stating the matter somewhat differently, Park envisages the mat- 
ter on the same level when, in his discussion of the problem of Negro 
studies previously cited, he writes : 

I have sought in this brief sketch to indicate the modifications, 
changes and fortune which a racial temperament has undergone as a 
result of encounters with an alien life and culture. This temperament, 
as I conceive it, consists in a few elementary but distinctive character- 
istics, determined by physical organization and transmitted biologically. 
These characteristics manifest themselves in a genial, sunny and social 
disposition, in an interest and attachment to external, physical things 
rather than to subjective states and objects of introspection ; in a dis- 
position for expression rather than enterprise and action. The changes 
which have taken place in the manifestations of this temperament have 
been actuated by an inherent and natural impulse, characteristic of all 
living things, to persist and maintain themselves in a changed environ- 
ment. Such changes have occurred as are likely to take place in any 
organism in its struggle to live and to use its environment to further 
and complete its own existence. 22 

Now, it is not to be denied that the problem of the relationship 
between innate endowment and cultural aptitudes is important, but 
the deeper this problem is probed, the larger the methodological dif- 
ficulties it presents. When, therefore, the materials on the New 



14 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

World Negro are attacked in terms of this problem alone or as, 
in the case of Park and Reuter, of a concept of "social evolution" 
which must inevitably involve an attempt to trace "stages of cultural 
development" the data are too complex, too cumbersome to see in 
workable perspective, and in consequence, the suggested researches 
die stillborn. But if an assumption of the vitality of African cultural 
traits is accepted as a working hypothesis to be tested, and the geo- 
graphical area for study is conceived to include the United States, 
the Caribbean, Latin America, and the relevant regions of Africa 
itself, attainable directives are made possible and research is encour- 
aged. 

It is recognized, to be sure, that no matter how the problem is 
formulated, it brings the student extremely close to the fundamental 
quality of the relationship between the biological and cultural poten- 
tialities of human groups. Yet by posing the question on the cul- 
tural level, this issue does not become paramount. The analysis is 
consistently held to the plane of learned behavior, so that whatever 
role innate endowment may play, it is not permitted to confuse the 
issues of the research. The problem thus becomes one of accounting 
for the presence or absence of cultural survivals in all of the New 
World, assessing the intensity of such survivals, discovering how 
they have changed their form or the way they have assumed new 
meaning in terms of the historic experience of the peoples con- 
cerned, and indicating the extent to which there has been a mutual 
interchange between all groups party to the contact, whether Euro- 
pean, Indian, or African. Should certain constants be discovered in 
the behavior of all Negroes in the New World and of their Old 
World relatives as well, then, and then only, need the question be 
faced of the degree to which we are dealing with a deeply set tradi- 
tional factor or with inherent drives ; or the cognate problem of the 
degree to which, under the racial crossing that has occurred every- 
where in the New World, such inherent tendencies have persisted. 

The study of the results of race-crossing is important, and there 
are aspects of such research where, as in the matter of social selec- 
tion, the mores must be taken into account. But the reverse is not 
true, and had the social scientists who have indicated the research 
potentialities in the study of New World Negroes been more con- 
cerned with their major field of interest, and less with the relation- 
ship between race and culture; if, above all, had they not assumed 
that the Negro presented a cultural tabula rasa on which to receive 
this New World experience, their suggestions might have stimulated 
the studies whose usefulness they recognized. 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 15 



A plan to profit by the research potentialities of the New World 
historical "laboratory" through a coordinated attack on Negro cul- 
tures in Africa and the Western Hemisphere was first suggested 
in I93O. 23 It envisaged study in West Africa to establish the cul- 
tural base line from which the differing traditions of the dominant 
New World Negro peoples might be assessed, and concomitant study 
of the life of Negroes in the West Indies and South America, where 
acculturation to European patterns has proceeded less rapidly than 
in the United States. Negro communities of the United States were 
to be held as later research objectives, since it was recognized that 
only on the basis of the broadest background could an adequate in- 
vestigation of the presence of Africanisms and their functioning 
in such groups be achieved. 

This plan, which outlined a reconsideration of the problem of 
Africanisms sketched in preceding pages, resulted essentially from 
findings of field research among the coastal and Bush Negroes of 
Dutch Guiana. It was evident, for example, even on initial acquaint- 
ance, that many ancestral African customs were to be found among 
the Negro tribes of the Bush, who because of their long isolation 
had experienced a minimum of contact with Europeans. But to one 
expecting a modicum of Africanisms in the Bush, and an absence of 
them in the coastal city of Paramaribo, where the Negroes have had 
close and continuous contact not alone with Europeans, but with 
Caribs, Javanese, British Indians, and Chinese as well, the results 
of close study were startling. In the interior, a full-blown African 
religious system, a smoothly functioning African clan organization, 
African place and personal names, African elements in economic 
life, a style of wood carving that could be traced to African sources 
showed what might be looked for in the institutions of any isolated 
culture that is a going concern. In the coastal region, however, under- 
neath such Europeanisms as the use of European clothing and money, 
or baptismal certificates and literacy, numerous African institutions, 
beliefs, and canons of behavior were likewise encountered. 24 The 
question thus posed itself: If this obtains in Guiana, might not 
Negro behavior elsewhere in the New World be profitably reinves- 
tigated with the lessons of this research in mind? An intensive re- 
view of published sources made an affirmative answer inescapable, 
and culminated in this outline of a comprehensive approach. 



16 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

The conceptual tool which represented the widest departure from 
earlier usage was described in the following passage : 

It is quite possible on the basis of our present knowledge to make a 
kind of chart indicating the extent to which the descendants of Africans 
brought to the New World have retained Africanisms in their cultural 
behavior. If we consider the intensity of African cultural elements in 
the various regions north of Brazil (which I do not include because 
there are so few data on which to base judgment), we may say that 
after Africa itself it is the Bush Negroes of Suriname who exhibit a 
civilization which is the most African. . . . Next to them, on our scale, 
would be placed their Negro neighbors on the coastal plains of the 
Guianas who, in spite of centuries of close association with the whites, 
hav.e retained an amazing amount of their aboriginal African traditions, 
many of which are combined in curious fashion with the traditions of 
the dominant group. Next on our scale we should undoubtedly place the 
peasants of Haiti . . . and associated with them, although in a lesser 
degree, would come the inhabitants of neighboring Santo Domingo. 
From this point, when we come to the islands of the British, Dutch, and 
(sometime) Danish West Indies, the proportion of African cultural 
elements drops perceptibly, . . . though . . . we realize that all of 
African culture has not by any means been lost to them. Next on our 
table we should place such isolated groups living in the United States 
as the Negroes of the Savannahs of southern Georgia, or those of the 
Gullah islands off the Carolina coast, where African elements of cul- 
ture are still more tenuous, and then the vast mass of Negroes of all 
degrees of racial mixture living in the South of the United States. 
Finally, we should come to a group where, to all intents and purposes, 
there is nothing of the African tradition left, and which consists of 
people of varying degrees of Negroid physical type, who only differ 
from their white neighbors in the fact that they have more pigmenta- 
tion in their skins. 25 

Revisions of detail in this outline, necessitated by the work of a 
decade, must obviously be made in charting the intensity of African- 
isms in the various areas of the New World when this conceptual 
tool is employed today; but the technique itself has richly proved 
its usefulness. 26 Thus, more concentrated research has been done on 
the African forms of religious life of the Negro in Brazil during 
the past decade than in any other part of the New World, and this 
has made available materials of first importance not at hand ten 
years ago. Studies in race relations and, most recently, in nonreli- 
gious patterns of the African survivals in the Negro culture of that 
country have also been initiated. 27 Haitian peasant life is far better 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 17 

known, 28 and the importance of the syncretisms which mark the rec- 
onciliation between African and European custom in many places 
of this culture has been pointed out. 29 These discussions bring into 
bolder relief the corresponding syntheses in the field of religion 
which likewise exist among the Catholic "fetishist" Negroes of 
Brazil and Cuba, 30 and indicate aspects of New World Negro accul- 
turation that have far wider meaning for an understanding of the 
results of cultural contact than its significance for this particular 
problem. With fuller comparative materials at hand, it has also been 
possible to utilize more effectively older sources from these regions 
and from Jamaica, the customs of whose Negro population were 
described in one of the pioneer ethnographic works from the entire 
New World Negro area. 31 

More recent research in West Africa has also emphasized the 
complexity of the cultures of that part of the continent from which 
so large a number of Negro slaves were captured. This work affords 
us leads toward the solution of the riddle of how the Negroes, com- 
ing from different tribes and speaking different languages, have by 
a hitherto unrecognized least common denominator in tradition and 
speech found it possible to preserve elements of their heritage. 83 
Research in the Virgin Islands, 33 and Trinidad, 84 also, has similarly 
made revision of the scale of intensity of Africanisms necessary, 
for this field work has demonstrated the principle that the accultura- 
tive process in each locality is to be analyzed in terms of the 
peculiarities of its own historic past and its own socio-economic 
present. 

Ten years ago it would not have seemed possible that the survivals 
to be found in the southern United States could be comparable to 
those discernible in any of the West Indian islands. Yet variation 
in intensity of Africanisms in the Antilles, while undoubtedly greater 
than in the South on the side of its African elements, runs the full 
range toward the most complete acculturation to European pat- 
terns that might be encountered not alone in the South, but also in 
northern states. Certainly it is not commonly understood that the 
socio-economic situation in such an island as Trinidad presents as- 
pects that have meaning when compared with that of the Negroes 
of the United States sharecropping, the presence of the industrial 
worker, and the like. Impressive parallels, however, are to be found 
and, it may be hoped, will be saved from the neglect which stu- 
dents of these phases of the Negro problem, in their reluctance to 
make comparative analyses, have so unanimously accorded them. 



1 8 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 



A further tool, which has been of increasing use as research has 
proceeded, is the concept of an Old World cultural province. As one 
comes to know the cultures of the entire African continent, one be- 
comes cognizant of numerous cultural correspondences between 
African, European, and Asiatic civilizations. As will be indicated 
later in our discussion, this is most apparent in the field of folk- 
lore, where, for example, animal tales of the Uncle Remus type 
are found in the Reynard cycle of medieval Europe, in the fables 
of Aesop, in the Panchatantra of India, in the Jataka tales of China, 
and in the animal stories of Indonesia. Certain aspects of the use of 
magic, of ordeals, of the role and forms of divination, of concep- 
tions of the universe (especially the organization of deities in rela- 
tionship groups), of games, of the use of proverbs and aphorisms, 
are also widely distributed over the Old World. 

All these, and many others not possible to detail here, have bearing 
on the study of the survival of Africanisms in the New World. For 
it is here we must turn for an explanation of the seemingly baffling 
fact, so often encountered, that given traits of New World Negro, 
and especially of American Negro behavior, are ascribable equally 
to European and African origin. This may well be viewed as but 
a reflection of the fact that deep beneath the differences between 
these varied civilizations of the Old World lie common aspects which, 
in generalized form, might be expected to emerge in situations of 
close contact between peoples, such as Europeans and Africans, 
whose specialized cultural endowments are comprehended within 
the larger unity. 



It is apparent that research into the problem of African survivals 
in the United States, when set in its proper context, carries the stu- 
dent into areas of importance for an understanding of the nature 
and processes of human civilization. It is apparent, further, that the 
problem cannot be studied most profitably except under terms of 
such a broad approach; and that, above all, if it is to realize its 
potentialities as a means of scientific comprehension, there must be 
an end to unsupported assumption concerning the disappearance of 
the traditions brought by the slaves from their homeland. As will 
later be indicated, African culture, instead of being weak under con- 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 19 

tact, is strong but resilient, with a resiliency that itself has sanction 
in aboriginal tradition. For the African holds it is pointless not to 
seek an adaptation of outer form, where this can "in a manner" be 
achieved. Before this point can be discussed at length, however, we 
must consider the significance of our analysis of cultural tenacity 
and resilience for those issues of practical importance, suggested in 
the opening section of this chapter, which no student of the Negro, 
however detached his approach, may disregard. 

We turn again, therefore, to the phenomenon of race prejudice, 
the factor that provides the rationalization for many of the inter- 
racial strains that are the essence of concern to the practical man. 
Racial prejudice, when analyzed, is found to rest on the operation 
of two closely interrelated factors, one socio-economic, the other 
historical and psychological. These social and economic factors are 
well recognized; certainly, it is with these that both practical and 
academic studies of Negro life have been primarily, and often ex- 
clusively, concerned. The reason for this is clear. Stresses lodging in 
this area are immediate, and call so compellingly for solution that 
the impulse to render first aid is difficult to resist. Moreover, on the 
surface, at least, these stresses can be referred to the situation of 
slavery; and their accentuation during the slave regime and since 
its suppression can thus be readily and satisfactorily explained. 
Finally, in programs of action, many of these difficulties are of a 
kind encountered in analogous form elsewhere in the socio-economic 
configurations of this country, and can thus reasonably be regarded 
as susceptible of effective attack through the operation of short- 
time ameliorative projects. 

The effect of this approach has been to relegate to the background 
the psychological basis of the race problem, and its less immediate 
historical aspects, when not entirely ignoring them. Again, this is 
understandable, for phenomena of this order cannot be studied, much 
less evaluated, without long and sustained analysis, such as has been 
already sketched. And this, too often, gives these problems an air 
of remoteness which militates against their appeal to those seeking 
the immediate solution of pressing needs. Yet these factors are as 
deeply intrenched in the interracial situation as are those other ele- 
ments which lie on the social and economic level, and they are far 
more insidious. In the light of current thinking about racial differ- 
ences in general, they are the most effective cause in perpetuating all 
shades of superiority-inferiority ranking given whites and Negroes 
by members of both groups. For here we are dealing with points of 
view that have received their directive force through generations 



20 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

of reiteration of cultural values, of comparative worth, of historic 
dignity. It is, therefore, at this point that the entire historical setting, 
which includes the problem of Africanisms in American Negro be- 
havior, becomes crucial, since the question of social endowment 
enters intimately into the determination of the assumptions on which 
attitudes regarding Negro inferiority rest. And it is these attitudes, 
as validated by the series of conceptions grouped under the heading 
of the myth concerning the Negro past, which rationalize and jus- 
tify the handicaps that, perpetuated from one generation to the next, 
cause current unrest among the Negroes who suffer under them 
and make for a diffused, all-pervading sense of malaise and even 
guilt among those who impose them. 



Whatever position concerning Africanisms is being considered, 
assumed functional relationships between various forces innate en- 
dowment and natural environment, on the one hand, and overt be- 
havior, on the other must be taken into account. In works of the 
earliest students, especially of Nott and Glidden, 85 an inescapable 
biological inferiority was advanced as the explanation for those 
traits of Negro customary behavior that were held undesirable. 
This point of view has been well summarized by L. C. Copeland: 

The South's dependence on the Negro is further obscured by the 
belief in the complete dependence of the black race upon the white race 
for moral as well as for economic support. The Negro is thought of as 
a child race, the ward of the civilized white man. We are told : "The 
savage and uncivilized black man lacks the ability to organize his social 
life on the level of the white community. He is unrestrained and re- 
quires the constant control of white people to keep him in check. With- 
out the presence of the white police force Negroes would turn upon 
themselves and destroy each other. The white man is the only authority 
he knows." 36 

This is the end result of constant repetition of the inferiority of 
Negroes and of African culture, indicated in the same discussion in 
these terms : 

In commenting on the books current in his youth Booker T. Wash- 
ington was struck by the manner in which they "put the pictures of 
Africa and African life in an unnecessarily cruel contrast with the pic- 
tures of the civilized and highly cultured Europeans and Americans." 
In one book a picture of George Washington was "placed side by side 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 21 

with a naked African, having a ring in his nose and a dagger in his hand. 
Here, as elsewhere, in order to put the lofty position to which the white 
race has attained in sharper contrast with the lowly condition of a 
more primitive people, the best among the white people was contrasted 
with the worst among the black." Washington related that he uncon- 
sciously took over the prevalent feeling that there must be something 
wrong and degraded about any person who was different from the 
customary. 87 

Leaving aside for the moment the significant comment of Booker 
T. Washington that the contrast between African and American or 
European life was made unnecessarily cruel, it is understandable 
how Negroes and unbiased whites, intent on analyzing the inter- 
racial situation, came to feel that all strategic considerations made 
desirable as emphatic a denial of African influence on present-day 
Negro custom as possible. 

Some of the statements bearing on the point, found in works 
that have had wide circulation and considerable influence, and which 
this negative attitude was designed to combat, may be cited. Dowd, 
in his much-quoted Negro in American Life, makes the flat asser- 
tion, "Nowhere in Africa have the Negroes evolved a civilization," 
qualifying this only with the statement: 

. . . but they have shown capacity to assimilate it. In the region of the 
Fellatah Empire, before the arrival of the Europeans, the natives had 
learned to read and write in Arabic, and had established several notable 
educational centers. 38 

Whenever this view of the inferior creative ability of the Negro 
is brought forward, it is customarily coupled with an observation 
on his imitative gift, which in turn becomes an additional reason 
for a policy of rigid control of Negroes by whites, of the type al- 
ready indicated. And still further implications are drawn from it: 

The characteristic of self-abasement, involving as it does a lack of 
self-respect, explains the Negro's extraordinary imitativeness. "This 
slavish imitation of the white," says Mecklin, "even to the attempted 
obliteration of physical characteristics, such as wooly hair, is almost 
pathetic, and exceedingly significant as indicating the absence of feeling 
of race pride or race integrity. Any imitation of one race by another, 
of such a wholesale and servile kind as to involve complete self-abnega- 
tion, must be disastrous to all concerned." 39 

Imitativeness is only one phase of what is written of as the 
Negro's childlike mind and his accompanying cheerfulness. Though 
comparable statements are not often met in the more recent works, 



22 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

the idea is sufficiently current to deserve its place in the mythological 
system, as presented. One example of this point of view continues 
the Dowd citations: 

The mind of the Negro can best be understood by likening it to that 
of a child. For instance, the Negro lives in the presert, his interests are 
objective, and his actions are governed by his emotions. . . . William 
H. Thomas, himself a Negro, also noted the childish traits of his race: 
"The Negro lives only in the present, and though at times doleful in 
language and frantic in grief, he is, like a child, readily soothed by 
trifles and easily diverted by persuasive speech." ... If cheerfulness 
is characteristic of children and of the Negro mind, so also are impul- 
siveness and fits of anger. The Negro, like a child, is easily irritated, 
and prone to quarrel and to fight. When angered he becomes a "raving 
Amazon, as it were, apparently beyond control, growing madder and 
madder each moment, eyes rolling, lips protruding, feet stamping, paw- 
ing, gesticulating." 40 

A study that has attracted a great deal of attention as an authori- 
tative work the excerpt from it in the preceding passage is merely 
one instance of the many times it is referred to is an early con- 
tribution by Odum. The present position of this author follows that 
of the more liberal group of students of the Negro; yet the para- 
graph presented below must be quoted if only to give an example 
of the position still taken by many concerning the Negro's mentality 
and the relative worth of his African background. It must be re- 
garded as especially significant, indeed, because of the place the 
work from which it is taken has assumed in the history of Negro 
research : 

Back of the child, and affecting him both directly and indirectly, are 
the characteristics of the race. The Negro has little home conscience or 
love of home. . . . He has no pride of ancestry . . . has few ideals 
. . . little conception of the meaning of virtue, truth, honor, manhood, 
integrity. He is shiftless, untidy, and indolent . . . the migratory or 
roving tendency seems to be a natural one to him. . . . The Negro 
shirks details and difficult tasks. . . . He does not know the value of 
his word or the meaning of words in general. . . . The Negro is im- 
provident and extravagant; ... he lacks initiative; he is often dis- 
honest and untruthful. He is over-religious and superstitious ... his 
mind does not conceive of faith in humanity he does not compre- 
hend it. 41 

Thus Odum conceived Negro mentality in 1910; his concept of the 
form of education best suited to Negro children may also be indi- 
cated as cogent : 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 23 

. . . Let the influences upon the Negro child, at least as far as the 
school is able to effect this end, lead him toward the unquestioning 
acceptance of the fact that his is a different race from the white, and 
properly so ; that it always has been and always will be ; that it is not 
a discredit not to be able to do as the whites, and that it is not neces- 
sarily a credit to imitate the life of the white man. . . , 42 

And in developing this thesis, an expression of his conception of the 
comparative worth of the Negro's African past is indicated: "He 
may learn from reading stories of Africa how much better off he is 
than his cousins." 

John Daniels, who has written a history of the Negroes of Boston 
that is frequently cited, evaluates their aboriginal heritage in these 
terms : 

It is of course undeniable that the precedent conditions out of which 
the Negro population of Boston is derived, have, from the earliest period 
down to the present, been of a peculiarly inferior kind. The first mem- 
bers of this race to appear in that city were brought, by way of the 
Bahamas, from their native African jungle, where from time im- 
memorial their ancestors had lived in a stage of primitive savagery. 
They were savages themselves, utterly ignorant of civilization, having 
no religion above a fear-born superstition, and lacking all conception 
of a reasoned morality. 43 

One further example, which shows how this position persists in 
unexpected nooks of the world in thought, is the following passage 
from a psychoanalytic journal, recently cited by J. Dollard : 

Leaving out of question the anthropometric tests which correspond 
closely to those of the native African, we find a number of qualities 
indicative of the relationship. The precocity of the children, the early 
onset of puberty, the failure to grasp subjective ideas, the strong sexual 
and herd instincts with the few inhibitions, the simple dream life, the 
easy reversion to savagery when deprived of the restraining influence 
of the whites (as in Haiti and Liberia), the tendency to seek expres- 
sion in such rhythmic means as music and dancing, the low resistance 
to such toxins as syphilis and alcohol, the sway of superstition, all these 
and many other things betray the savage heart beneath the 'civilized 
exterior. Because he wears a Palm Beach suit instead of a string of 
cowries, carries a gold-headed cane instead of a spear, uses the telephone 
instead of beating the drum from hill to hill and for the jungle path 
has substituted the pay-as-you-enter street car his psychology is no less 
that of the African. 44 

This quotation is especially meaningful because of the manner in 
which it indicates how, employing psychoanalytic phraseology and 



24 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

concepts, this older view of Negro endowment and the Negro past 
may be rationalized. That it is to be hoped that this writer's evalua- 
tion of the Negro of the United States is somewhat more accurate 
than his exposition of African civilization is aside from the point, 
which has to do with the light the quotation throws on the way a 
concept, once developed, may present itself in new form. 

It must be stressed that we are at the moment concerned only 
with those evaluations of the Negro past which served to establish 
the denial to African culture traits of any vitality in the scheme of 
American Negro life. A few more of these evaluations may be re- 
viewed. Hoffman, in stating that the materials in his study of the 
Negro constitute "a most severe condemnation of modern attempts 
of superior races to lift inferior races to their own elevated posi- 
tion" shows the attitude taken in another of these works. 45 Tilling- 
hast's influence, which has been very great, is especially apparent in 
references to the supposed effect of the African climate on the 
Negro's cultural endowment. Two quotations may be given to illus- 
trate this approach: 

The direct influence of African climate is adverse to persistent effort. 
Where high temperatures, and low humidity prevail, the rapid evapora- 
tion from the body cools it, and permits considerable exertion, as is the 
case in Egypt. Great humidity, combined with a low temperature, as 
in the British Isles, has no bad effect. But West Africa enjoys neither 
of these advantages, it swelters under a torrid heat combined with ex- 
cessive humidity. Such conditions deaden industrial effort. The white 
man, whose capacity for energetic and prolonged labor in most circum- 
stances is so great, whose wants are so numerous and insatiable, finds 
himself irresistibly overcome. Rich rewards await those who can put 
forth a little effort, yet as Ellis says, so intense is the disinclination to 
work, that even the strongest wills can rarely combat it. In fact, this 
very will itself seems to become inert. 

We are now prepared to appreciate the workings of the vitally im- 
portant factor of natural selection. It is obvious that in West Africa 
natural selection could not have tended to evolve great industrial capac- 
ity and aptitude, simply because these were not necessary to survival. 
Where a cold climate and poor natural productiveness threaten constant 
destruction to those who cannot or will not put forth persistent effort, 
selection operates to eliminate them and preserve the efficient. In torrid 
and bountiful West Africa, however, the conditions of existence have 
for ages been too easy to select the industrially efficient and reject the 
inefficient. 46 

That such statements are of themselves not to be taken seriously 
need scarcely be mentioned at the present time, since Tillinghast's 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 25 

references to Spencer adequately date his conception of the role of 
natural selection in determining traits of social behavior. Neverthe- 
less, in the light of the number of times this work has been quoted, 
it must be taken fully into account. 

U. B. Phillips, the best-known historian of slavery, phrases his 
estimate of the African scene in the following manner : 

The climate in fact not only discourages but prohibits mental effort 
of severe or sustained character, and the negroes have submitted to that 
prohibition as to many others, through countless generations, with ex- 
cellent grace. ... It can hardly be maintained that savage life is idyllic. 
Yet the question remains, and may long remain, whether the manner in 
which the negroes were brought into touch with civilization resulted in 
the greater blessing or the greater curse. That manner was determined 
in part at least by the nature of the typical negroes themselves. Impul- 
sive and inconstant, sociable and amorous, voluble, dilatory and negli- 
gent, but robust, amiable, obedient and contented, they have been the 
world's premium slaves. 47 

N. N. Puckett has likewise expressed himself concerning Afri- 
can characteristics, references to inborn and learned traits of behav- 
ior, as in previous instances, being intermingled: 

Impulsiveness is another African trait which in the United States is 
gradually being laid aside in favor of greater self-restraint. . . . Lazi- 
ness is found both in Africa and in America; in Africa being enhanced 
by the enervating tropical environment. . . . While a well regulated 
sex life is in part a result of cultural background, yet the sexual indul- 
gence of the Negro, so open in Africa and in many parts of the rural 
South, may conceivably be a racial characteristic developed by natural 
selection in West Africa as a result of the frightful mortality. . . . 
Despotism in West Africa seems to win loyalty, pride and popularity, 
possibly because a strong-minded master has spirit enough to resent 
aggression and self-reliance enough to protect his followers from out- 
side annoyance. . . . Shortsightedness, indifference and disregard of 
the future are traits common not only to Africans and many Negroes, 
but to almost all undisciplined primitive peoples. 48 

In Weather ford's The Negro from Africa to America, the evalua- 
tions of the African background, the importance of knowing which 
is stressed, follow the same pattern, as is shown in this passage 
from the introductory remarks : 

We believe that much of the present response of the Negro to social 
environment is influenced by the social heritage, not only from slavery 
but from the far African past. This is in no way an intimation that the 
Negro has not progressed far beyond that past. Indeed no one can read 



26 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

the story of his marvelous progress without great amazement, and the 
amazement is all the more heightened when one sees the humble begin- 
nings of the race. On the other hand there can be little doubt that there 
are vestigial remains of a far social heritage in the present social reac- 
tions of the American Negro, which if not understood will vitiate all 
of our judgments concerning him. 49 

The cultural handicap of the Negro is explained in these terms : 

Like the mountain peoples of Tennessee, Kentucky and North Caro- 
lina, who for two centuries or more have been held in isolation by their 
mountain fastnesses and hence have fallen two centuries behind the 
procession of civilization, so the African peoples, shut in by the natural 
barriers of their own continent for thousands of years, have dropped 
many centuries behind the progress of civilization, not altogether because 
of less capacity, but mainly, at least, because of less contacts. 50 

The call for tolerance is consistent with the position taken: 

The student of the American Negro today must therefore come to his 
task with a knowledge of the Negro's past if he is to really understand 
him at the present. He must be willing to judge him as to the distance 
he has traveled since he left his African home, rather than compared 
with the white man who had thousands of years the start. He must 
recognize the traits built into a race during long centuries cannot be 
bred out in a few years or even a few decades, and that the political and 
economic life of the present American Negro in the light of his back- 
ground, is nothing less than amazing. 51 

Ten years after the publication of the volume in which the above 
passages appeared, the author obtained a collaborator and saw a 
new light. Whether the collaborator was responsible for the change 
of opinion, or further consideration on his own part brought this 
about, cannot be said, but a far different point of view is expressed 
in the collaborative work, which, for the sake of perspective, can 
also be quoted : 

Since the culture of Africa therefore is quite different from our own, 
we are apt to conclude it is inferior. For have we not felled the forest, 
dug up the ores from the earth, fashioned powerful machines, annihilated 
space, subdued nature to our bidding? The African had done none of 
these things in such marked degree as have we; hence we are inclined 
to say his culture is inferior and the Africans as a people are inferior. 
Aptitude? of people may be proven far more by ability to adapt their 
culture to the environment in which they live than by ability to borrow 
culture from all the rest of the world, and on this basis we may find 
upon further study that the African peoples have much to commend 
them to our respect. 52 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 27 



It is not strange that the extremes to which the statements quoted 
above go should have brought the conviction that, since the African 
past constituted a serious handicap, the best thing to do was to dis- 
regard it wherever possible; from which the rationalization that 
nothing of this African handicap remains was but a short step, 
especially since, as has been indicated, the degree of acculturation 
to the patterns of the white majority actually manifested by Negroes 
in the United States is so considerable. The quotations that have 
been given are, of course, from the pens of men accustomed to writ- 
ing with restraint ; scholars, whose words were calculated to promote 
the search for knowledge rather than to lead to action. It is unnec- 
essary to do more than call attention to the innumerable statements 
and repetitions of statements that came from the journalists, the 
clergy, the politicians, and those others who took for granted the in- 
feriority of the Negro, and were able to enforce their conviction by a 
control of the power that, after emancipation no less than before, 
they used to keep the Negro in that place in the social scene he was 
deemed fit to occupy by reason of his inferiority. 

This is not the point in our discussion to inquire into the extent 
that the evaluations of African culture are tenable. 53 Here we may 
but suggest that for those concerned with the best interests of the 
Negro, there was ample reason to conclude that strategy demanded 
a refutation of the claim that the Negro always has been, and always 
must be, the bearer of an inferior tradition, which, since he can 
never shake it off, must doom him to a perpetual status of inferior- 
ity. That they may have overshot the mark in looking to change of 
emphasis rather than the erasing of misconception is beside the 
point ; the reasons why they took the position they did take are, grant- 
ing their point of view, unassailable. 

Yet it is not permitted us to conclude that this is the sole reason 
why the presence of Africanisms has been denied, both in the 
United States and in the New World generally. An ethnocentric 
point of view is congenial to any people and, in our society, this 
has become stabilized in terms of the idea that no nonliterate folk 
can withstand contact with Euro-American culture. It is assumed, 
for example, that primitive cultures customarily denoted by non- 
scientists as "inferior" or "simple*' are everywhere dying out be- 
cause of this contact. In this country, the disappearance of many 
Indian tribes did much to strengthen this ethnocentrism ; applied 



28 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

to the transplanted African, whose pliability and subservience were 
used to explain his physical survival under slavery, it took the form 
of matter-of-fact acceptance of the disappearance of African tradi- 
tion in the face of association with the whites. A case in point can 
be cited, the more interesting since it does not concern the Negroes 
of the United States and has to do with no theory of relative cul- 
tural merit. In 1888, William W. Newell, in discussing the voodoo 
cult of Haiti, says : 

Although all the writers who have alluded to these superstitions have 
assumed that they are an inheritance from Africa, I shall be able to make 
it appear : first, that the name Vaudoux, or Voodoo, is derived from a 
European source ; secondly, that the beliefs which the word denotes are 
equally imported from Europe; thirdly, that the alleged sect and its 
supposed rites have, in all probability, no real existence, but are a 
product of popular imagination. 54 

With the last claim we are not concerned, but in "establishing" his 
other propositions, Newell curiously adumbrates the method of 
those who, in various fields, have derived the peculiarities of Negro 
custom from European sources. For he conceives the almost purely 
African rites of the vodun cult as mere misunderstanding, by Hai- 
tian Negroes, of the French heretical sect of the Waldenses, whose 
name was mispronounced, as its ritual was distorted by the blacks 
when they adopted this cult in favor of their aboriginal religious 
beliefs. 

The quotations given in the opening pages of this discussion may 
be taken as typifying the point of view of most present-day students 
of the Negro. The African past may perhaps be considered as ap- 
pearing fragmentarily in a few aspects of contemporary Negro life 
of the United States, but such survivals are to be studied only in 
the most complete antiquarian sense. African culture may be con- 
ceded a greater degree of comparative respectability than was earlier 
the case though, as has been seen, the point of view which Hoff- 
man, Tillinghast, Dowd, Mecklin, the earlier manifestations of 
Odum and Weather ford, and others put forward concerning the 
low caliber of African modes of life has by no means lost its vital- 
ity. But African culture, in any event, is held unimportant and hence 
can be disregarded in studying Negro life in this country today. 
This is the point of view expressed in Powdermaker's study of 
Indianola : 

The Negro did not come here culturally naked, but the conditions of 
slavery were such that a large part of his aboriginal culture was of 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 29 

necessity lost. He was separated from fellow-tribesmen, taught a new 
language, and inducted both subtly and forcibly into the culture of the 
white masters. Beyond doubt, there are some survivals of African cul- 
ture, but to determine exactly what those are would require a very differ- 
ent type of research. Historical elements enter into this point of view 
only as they make themselves felt in current processes and attitudes. 55 

Other examples, too numerous to be quoted here, could be drawn 
from studies whose concern is with a single phase of the problem. 
Thus Krapp 56 argues that all Negro speech can be traced to English 
dialect, though this is a proposition in accord with his general posi- 
tion that, "so far as pronunciation is concerned, it is doubtful if in 
a single instance the pronunciation of normal American English has 
been modified by the influence of a foreign language/* and that, in 
the matter of vocabulary, "American English has been very slow to 
borrow new words from other languages/' 57 The more familiar as- 
sumption, however, is not absent from his writings : 

The native African dialects have been completely lost. That this should 
have happened is not surprising, for it is a linguistic axiom that when 
two groups of people with different languages come into contact, the one 
on a relatively high, the other on a relatively low cultural level, the latter 
adapts itself freely to the speech of the former, whereas the group on 
the higher cultural plane borrows little or nothing from that on the 
lower. 58 

If "dominant" and "minority" groups might be substituted for 
"high" and "low" as cultural designations, there would be at least 
a logical presumption that such a process might occur though 
whether in enough instances to give rise to a "linguistic axiom" can- 
not be said. But the statement as phrased, in so far as it touches on 
the matter of our concern, merely is another example of the con- 
ventional pattern of expression regarding Negro aboriginal endow- 
ment. 

It follows logically, then, that men of good faith might well con- 
clude that the less said of Africanisms the better. But what if the 
estimate of Africanisms is not correct? What if the cultures of 
Africa from which the New World Negroes were derived, when 
described in terms of the findings of modern scientific method, are 
found to be vastly different from the current stereotype? What if 
these cultures impressed themselves on their carriers, and the de- 
scendants of their carriers, too deeply to be eradicated any more than 
were the cultural endowments of the various groups of European 
immigrants? More than this, what if the aboriginal African endow- 



30 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

ment were found, in certain respects, even to have been transmitted 
to the whites, thus making the result of contact an exchange of cul- 
ture as it was in the case of other groups rather than the endow- 
ment of an inferior people with habits of a superior group? Let us 
suppose, in short, it could be shown that the Negro is a man with 
a past and a reputable past ; that in time the concept could be spread 
that the civilizations of Africa, like those of Europe, have contrib- 
uted to American culture as we know it today; and that this idea 
might eventually be taken over into the canons of general thought. 
Would this not, as a practical measure, tend to undermine the as- 
sumptions that bolster racial prejudice ? 

There are other, more immediate, ways in which truer perspec- 
tive concerning Africanisms might be helpful from a practical point 
of view: 

Granting that current social and economic forces are predominant in 
shaping race relations, it must never be forgotten that psychological 
imponderables are also of first importance in sanctioning action on any 
level. And it is such imponderables . . . that . . . are now being 
strengthened by the findings of studies that ignore the only valid point 
of departure in social investigation the historical background of the 
phenomenon being studied and those factors which make for its existence 
and perpetuation. When, for instance, one sees vast programs of Negro 
education undertaken without the slightest consideration being given to 
even the possibility of some retention of African habits of thought and 
speech that might influence the Negroes' reception of the instruction 
thus offered, one cannot but ask how we hope to reach the desired ob- 
jectives. When we are confronted with psychological studies of race 
relations made in utter ignorance of characteristic African patterns of 
motivation and behavior, or with sociological analyses of Negro family 
life which make not the slightest attempt to take into account even the 
chance that the phenomenon being studied might in some way have been 
influenced by the carry-over of certain African traditions ; when we 
contemplate accounts of the history of slavery which make of plantation 
life a kind of paradise by ignoring or distorting the essential fact that 
the institution persisted only through constant precautions taken against 
slave uprisings, we can but wonder about the value of such work. 59 

Yet such studies are being undertaken, and in them the ordinary 
procedure of the scientist, whereby he attempts to take into account 
all possible factors, is invariably neglected in favor of uncritical 
repetition of statements touching the aboriginal Negro past. And 
this, it is submitted, achieves one result with a sureness that would 
shock those who are the cause of this distortion of scholarship. For 
though it has often been pointed out that the skin-color of the Negro 



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICANISMS 31 

makes him an all too visible mark for prejudice, it is not so well 
realized that the accepted opinion of the nature of the Negro's cul- 
tural heritage is what makes him the only element in the peopling 
of the United States that has no operative past except in bondage. 
There is still another point of practical importance that should 
not be overlooked in appraising the implications of proper study of 
Negro backgrounds and of the retention of Africanisms. And this 
is the effect of the present-day representatives of this race without 
a past, of the deprivation they suffer in bearing no pride of tradi- 
tion. For no group in the population of this country has been more 
completely convinced of the inferior nature of the African back- 
ground than have the Negroes. Woodson has phrased the point in 
these terms: 

Negroes themselves accept as a compliment the theory of a complete 
break with Africa, for above all things they do not care to be known as 
resembling in any way these "terrible Africans." On the other hand, the 
whites prate considerably about what they have preserved of the ancient 
cultures of the "Teutons" or "Anglo-Saxons," emphasizing especially 
the good and saying nothing about the undesirable practices. If you tell 
a white man that his institution of lynching is the result of the custom 
of raising the "hue and cry" among his tribal ancestors in Germany or 
that his custom of dealing unceremoniously with both foreigners and 
Negro citizens regardless of statutory prohibition is the vestigial hark- 
ing back to the Teuton's practice of the "personality of the law," he 
becomes enraged. And so do Negroes when you inform them that their 
religious practices differ from those of their white neighbors chiefly to 
the extent that they have combined the European with the African 
superstition. These differences, of course, render the Negroes unde- 
sirable to those otherwise religious-minded. The Jews boldly adhere to 
their old practices while the Negroes, who enjoy their old customs just 
as much, are ashamed of them because they are not popular among 
"Teutons." 60 

No better documentation of Woodson's point could be made than 
the following comment of a Negro scholar on the cultural endow- 
ment of his own group : 

The tradition and culture of the American Negro have grown out of 
his experience in America and have derived their meaning and signifi- 
cance from the same source. Through the study of the Negro family one 
is able to see the process by which these experiences have become a part 
of the traditions and culture of the Negro group. To be sure, when one 
undertakes the study of the Negro he discovers a great poverty of 
traditions and patterns of behavior that exercise any real influence on 
the formation of the Negro's personality and conduct. If, as Keyserling 



32 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

remarks, the most striking thing about the Chinese is their deep culture, 
the most conspicuous thing about the Negro is his lack of a culture. 61 

It is little wonder that to mention Africa to a Negro audience sets 
up tensions in the same manner as would have resulted from the 
singing of spirituals, the "mark of slavery," to similar groups a 
generation ago. Africa is a badge of shame; it is the reminder of a 
savage past not sufficiently remote, as is that of European savagery, 
to have become hallowed. Yet without a conviction of the worth 
of one's own group, this is inevitable. A people that denies its past 
cannot escape being a prey to doubt of its value today and of its 
potentialities for the future. 

To give the Negro an appreciation of his past is to endow him N 
with the confidence in his own position in this country and in the 
world which he must have, and which he can best attain when he 
has available a foundation of scientific fact concerning the ancestral 
cultures of Africa and the survivals of Africanisms in the New 
World. And it must again be emphasized that when such a body of 
fact, solidly grounded, is established, a ferment must follow which, 
when this information is diffused over the population as a whole, 
will influence opinion in general concerning Negro abilities and 
potentialities, and thus contribute to a lessening of interracial 
tensions. 



Chapter II 
THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS 



Fundamental to any discussion of the presence or absence of Afri- 
canisms in Negro custom in the New World is the establishment of 
a "base line" from which change may be judged. Two elements enter 
into this ; it is necessary to discover, as precisely as possible, the 
tribal origins of the slaves brought to the New World, and on the 
basis of these facts to obtain as full and accurate knowledge as we 
can of the cultures of these folk. 

In this chapter, only the historical materials employed to deter- 
mine tribal provenience will be presented. Yet historical analysis, of 
itself, has not given and cannot give the needed information. Only 
in coordination with the etlinologicaf phase of the dual attack im- 
plicit in the ethno-historical method can documentation, otherwise 
meaningless, realize its greatest significance. Historical scholars have 
for years considered the problem of the African origins of the slaves, 
but without knowledge of the cultures of the regions toward which 
the materials in the documents pointed, they were unable to validate 
their hypotheses, even when, as was not always the case, they had 
adequate acquaintance with the local geography of Africa and could 
thus make effective use of the place names which recur in the con- 
temporary literature. 

Here, indeed, the appropriate elements in our "mythology" played 
their part well. Historians, with the principle that the slaves were 
derived from most of the African continent and the convention of 
the "thousand-mile march" of the slave coffles in mind, were under- 
standably reluctant to draw the conclusions their data indicated 
that the greater number of Negroes imported into New World coun- 
tries came from a far more restricted area than had been thought 
the case. It is generally recognized that the ports from which slaves 
were shipped were preponderantly those along the western coast, 
and that south and east African points of shipment were rare. Yet 
coastal shipping points do not necessarily mean that the goods ex- 

33 



34 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

ported from them have not been gathered from a hinterland in 
this case by distant native chieftains whose avarice was stimulated 
by the rewards held out to them by slavers. 

Only when the scrutiny of th^ documents was complemented by 
acquaintance with the etliAography of Old a^id New World Negro 
communities, and the traits of the cultures of these groups were 
correlated with data from Africa to discover correspondences, did 
the question of African origins become susceptible of attack. A base 
line for the study of cultural change among New World Negroes 
and, from the point of the focus of attention in this discussion, of 
the Negroes of the United States has been established by means 
of this cross-disciplinary technique. We may thus turn to the results 
obtained from analyzing the historical documentation, leaving a con- 
sideration of survivals of tribal custom in New World Negro soci- 
eties for a more appropriate later point. 



The pattern for the prevailing conception of slaving operations 
was set by early writers, and this has been reinforced by the tend- 
ency to interpret African commercial relations in terms of Euro- 
pean methods of trading, and a lack of knowledge of the density 
of population in West Africa. For it is not difficult to reason that, 
with a demand for slaves such as the American markets created, 
word of the commercial advantages in trading to the coast would 
spread to the hinterland, and captives would be brought to the fac- 
tories of the European companies. It is said that slaves in some 
numbers were traded from tribe to tribe across the entire bulk of 
Central Africa, so that members of East African communities 
found themselves at Congo ports awaiting shipment to the New 
World ! Yet this disregards not only the vast distances involved 
some 3,000 miles -but also the dangers attendant upon such jour- 
neys in terms of the hostility between many of the tribes over the 
area and the absence of adequate lines of communication, to say 
nothing of the slight economic gain from such hazardous commerce 
even were the highest prices to be paid for such slaves. 

The earlier writers give astonishingly little justification, in their 
own works, for their statements on the extensiveness of the slave 
traffic. For example, though Bryan Edwards writes of the "immense 
distance to the sea-coast" traveled by slaves, yet of the cases he cites 
of Jamaican slaves he questioned about their African homes, only 
for "Adam, a Congo boy/ 1 is his assertion borne out, though even 



THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS 35 

Adam is merely claimed to have come "from a vast distance inland." 
The four Negroes from the Gold Coast could not have lived far 
from the sea, the Ebo village Edwards speaks of was "about one 
day's journey from the sea-coast," while the fifth, a Chamba from 
Sierra Leone, also came from relatively near the coast. 1 

Mungo Park has given us our only firsthand account of the 
adventures of a slave coffle, but his description gives little support 
to those who emphasize the "thousand-mile" journeys made to the 
coast. 2 On April 19, 1797, Mr. Park departed from Kamalia, in the 
Bambara country, with slaves for the American market. The Gambia 
was reached on June I, at a point some hundred miles from the sea 
where seagoing ships could come, and fifteen days later an Ameri- 
can ship, bound for South Carolina, took slaves as cargo and Mr. 
Park as passenger. The distance traversed by the caravan was about 
500 miles, or, for the 44 days in transit, an average of between n 
and 12 miles per day. The question may well be raised whether the 
translation of time into space, of the slow progress from sources 
of supply to the coastal factories, might not have been an impor- 
tant factor in giving the weight of logic to the conception of the 
slave trade as reaching far into the interior 1 . 

A source of information on the provenience of slaves which has 
remained almost entirely uncxploitcd is the tradition about slaving 
in Africa itself. In Dahomey, for example, a kingdom on the Guinea 
coast which extended from its port, Whydah, some 150 miles into 
the interior, the annual "war" operated to supply the slave dealers. 
There are no traditions among these people that they acted as 
middlemen for traders farther inland ; they were, in fact, avoided 
by the merchant folk, such as the Hausa, since the stranger in their 
kingdom was himself fair game. The peoples raided by the Da- 
homeans lived no farther from the coast than 200 miles, while most 
of their victims came from much nearer. Tribes to the east and west, 
rather than to the north, were the easiest prey, and hencejhe Nago 
(Yoruba) of Nigeria and the people of the present Togoland are 
-found to figure most prominently in native lists of the annual cam 
paigns. 3 

The coastal area of the Gold Coast was occupied by the Fanti 
tribes, who, because of their control of this strategic region, acted 
'as middlemen for tribes to the north. Yet all evidence from recog- 
nizable survivals such as the many Ashanti-Akan-Fanti place names, 
names of deities, and day names in the New World are evidence that 
the sources of the slaves exported by the Fanti were in greatest pro- 
portion within the present boundaries of the Gold Coast colony. This 



36 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

is quite in accordance with the population resources of the coastal 
belt. The numerous villages, and the presence of cities of consider- 
able size all through the area, suggest that the conception of an 
Africa depopulated by the slave trade, without the numbers neces- 
sary to support a drain that is to be figured in the millions, stands in 
need of drastic revision. 

Senegal and the Guinea coast are two of the four principal areas 
mentioned in contemporary writings. The regions about the mouth 
of the Niger, named Bonny and Calabar in the documents, and the 
Congo are the other two, and it may be profitable to outline the 
situation with respect to the potentialities of the hinterland which 
was exploited for slaves there, and the nature of such historical 
facts as are available about the slave trade in these areas. The Niger 
Delta is a teeming hive, its low marshy plains densely inhabited by 
groups which, like those in the country lying behind it, are small 
and autonomous and thus, politically, in contrast to those larger 
entities, which we term kingdoms and empires, of the other parts 
of the slaving area. In this hinterland it was group against group, 
and kidnaping was probably more customary than anywhere else, 
though the oral tradition of the care taken by mothers to guard 
their children from unsupervised contact with strangers heard every- 
where in West Africa and the use of folk tales to impress children 
with the danger of leaving the familial compound are eloquent of 
the fears engendered by the slavers in all the vast region. 

Large numbers of slaves were shipped from the Niger Delta 
region, as indicated by the manifests of ships loaded at Calabar and 
Bonny, the principal ports. These were mainly Ibo slaves represent- 
ing a people which today inhabits a large portion of this region. 
Their tendency to despondency, noted in many parts of the New 
World, and a tradition of suicide as a way out of difficulties has 
often been remarked, as, for example, in Haiti where the old saying 
"Ibos pend' cor' a yo The Ibo hang themselves" 4 is still current. 
That this attitude toward life is still well recognized among the Ibo 
in Africa was corroborated in the field recently by Dr. J. S. Harris. 5 
The same tendency was noticed among the " Calabar " Negroes 
another generic name for Ibos among the slaves in the United 
States, as is indicated by the remark of the biographer of Henry 
Laurens, that in South Carolina "the frequent suicides among Cala- 
bar slaves indicate the different degrees of sensitive and independent 
spirit among the various Negro tribes," 6 

To the east of the Cross River lie the Cameroons and Gaboon, 



THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS 37 

which figured little in the slave trade. The worth of these Negroes 
was held to be slight, as the following quotation indicates : 

The "kingdom of Gaboon," which straddled the equator, was the 
worst reputed of all. "From thence a good negro was scarcely ever 
brought. They are purchased so cheaply on the coast as to tempt many 
captains to freight with them; but they generally die either on the 
passage or soon after their arrival in the islands. The debility of their 
constitutions is astonishing." From this it would appear that most of 
the so-called Gaboons must have been in reality Pygmies caught in the 
inland equatorial forests, for Bosman, who traded among the Gaboons, 
merely inveighed against their garrulity, their indecision, their gulli- 
bility and their fondness for strong drink, while as to their physique 
he observed: "they are mostly large, robust well-shaped men/' 7 

Raiding to the north or northeast of the Calabar area was 
rendered unlikely by the existence of better-organized political 
units, and consequently this locus of the trade fed on itself. This it 
could do, for with its dense peopling it could export the numbers it 
did without significant recourse to its neighboring territories, so 
that here again, where provenience is concerned, research must look 
to tribes well within a belt stretching, as a maximum, not more than 
two or three hundred miles from the coast as the area meriting 
closest attention. 

For the Congo, relatively little information is available. We know 
from the data concerning two New World centers, Brazil and the 
Sea Islands off the Carolina Coast, that the peoples of Angola 
figured largely in the trade to these areas. Many traits )f Congo 
religion and song have been recorded from Brazil 8 while linguistic 
survivals in the Gulla Islands, as studied by Dr. Turner, 9 likewise 
show a substantial proportion of words from this region. The works 
of Pere Dieudonne Rinchon have dealt more carefully with the 
Congo slave trade than those of any other student of the history of 
slaving, and his testimony indicates that in the Congo, as elsewhere, 
the slavers were not compelled to range far from the coast to obtain 
their supply. The following passage, indeed, reinforces this hypoth- 
esis by the manner in which the case described in the last three 
sentences is singled out for special attention : 

Les esclaves exportes sont principalement des Ambundus, des gens de 
Mbamba et de Mbata, et pour le reste des Negres du Haut-Congo achetes 
par les Bamfumgunu et les Bateke du Pool. Quelques-uns d e ces esclaves 
viennent de fort loin dans I'interieur. Le capitaine negrier Degrandpre 
achete a Cabinda une Negresse qui lui parait assez familiere avec les 
Blancs, ou du moins qui ne temoigne a leur vue ni surprise, ni f rayeur ; 



38 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

frappe de cette securite peu ordinaire, le negrier lui en demande la 
cause. Elle repond qu'elle a vu precedement des Blancs dans une autre 
terre, ou le soleil se leve dans 1'eau, et non comme au Congo ou il se 
cache dans la mer ; et elle ajoute en montrant le levant monizi monambu, 
j'ai vu le bord de la mer; elle a etc en chemin, gonda cacata, beaucoup 
de lune. Ce recit semble confirmer les dires de Dapper que parfois des 
esclaves du Mozambique sont vendus au Congo. 10 

A passage with such definite information is rare in the literature. It 
can most easily be utilized for our purpose if the excellent tribal 
maps of the Belgian Congo now available are consulted. 11 The 
Bamfumungu and the Bateke, living in the region of Stanley Pool 
on the upper Congo, are a bare 200 miles in the interior. The 
Bambata (the Mbata of the citation) are found about 100 miles 
from the coast; the Mbamba, given by Rinchon as living between 
7 5' South and 14 East, are today included in the Portuguese 
colony of Angola, and hence not recorded on the Belgian maps. 
Aside from Rinchon's list, another clue to Congo origins is had in 
the name of a people mentioned often in Haiti, the Mayombe. This 
tribe lives directly behind Cabinda, which was the principal slaving 
port, and their most easterly extension is not more than 50 or 75 
miles from the coast. 

Material gained during field work further reinforces our hypoth- 
esis that the coastal area of West Africa furnished the greater 
proportion of the slaves. This information was recorded in the 
Hausa city of Kano, in northern Nigeria, where by the kindness of 
the Emir, it was possible to query four old men who themselves, like 
their forebears for many generations, had been important slavers 
"merchants," as they insisted on being called trading with the 
Gold Coast. The route they traveled was some 1,800 miles long, and 
is still traversed today ; and every point on it could be checked with 
standard maps. The distance involved was largely a matter of east- 
and-west travel rather than southwardly to the coast (Kano lies 
between 500 and 600 miles inland), since it was necessary, were 
they to remain in friendly Hausa and allied territory, to strike far 
to the west before moving southward otherwise they would have 
encountered the hostile peoples of Dahomey and w r hat is today west- 
ern Nigeria. It is not necessary to repeat here information already 
available, 12 except to indicate briefly the operations of these men as 
they describe something of the numbers of slaves brought from this 
relatively deep point in the interior. That is, slaves were taken to 
the Gold Coast for trade with the Ashanti only as an incident to the 
najor purpose ; it was goods, not human beings, that were the object 



THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS 39 

of their attention, and the slaves in the caravans were burden- 
bearers, and hence only for sale on the most advantageous terms. 
They were never, as far as these men knew, traded directly to the 
whites. The matter has been summarized in the following terms : 

. . . though perhaps six or seven thousand slaves left Kano every year 
for the Gold Coast, two-thirds or three-fourths of that number returned 
north as carriers, the capacity in which they had acted during the south- 
ward journey. And though we may suppose that more than five caravans 
departed from Kano each year when the slave trade was at its height, 
and that a smaller proportion of slaves than that named were returned 
as carriers of merchandise, even then the number who arrived at the 
coastal factories could constitute but a fraction of the enormous num- 
bers of slaves whom the record tells us were shipped from Gold Coast 
ports. 13 

Let us permit the question of provenience, as it bears on the dis- 
tance in the interior from which slaves were brought, to rest at this 
point. The present status of our knowledge permits us only to indi- 
cate that a reinvestigation of prevailing hypotheses in the matter of 
slaves brought to America deriving from vast distances inland is 
necessary. A qualification must, however, be made explicit and 
emphatic, for, as in other points at which research tends to con- 
travene the accepted "mythology," an exception taken is interpreted 
as an assertion made. Hence it is necessary here to state unequiv- 
ocally that in positing derivation from coastal tribes for the major 
portion of the slaves, it is not intended to convey that no slaves 
came from distant points inland or even from East Africa. Some 
undoubtedly traveled great distances the case cited by Rinchon is 
to the point since the demand, particularly in the later days of the 
slave trade, must have been so great that a certain number of cap- 
tives were brought from the deep interior. The point at issue is not 
whether any slaves were derived from far inland, but whether 
enough of them could have been brought from these localities to the 
New World to place the stamp of their tribal customs on New 
World behavior; whether, that is, these extensions of the trade in- 
land are significant for the study of African survivals in the United 
States and elsewhere in the New World. To answer this question 
we shall need to anticipate ethnographic materials to be given later; 
but it may here be stated that survivals of the known customs of 
such interior peoples are practically nonexistent in the Americas 
even where, and especially where, the most precisely localized African 
traits have been carried over. This means that, as we turn again to 
the documents, we may evaluate our findings without misgivings 



40 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

about whether or not points of shipment may be taken to be signifi- 
cant of points of tribal origin. 



Before considering fresh data, let us examine some of the state- 
ments made on slave derivations. The late U. B. Phillips, outstand- 
ing as an historian of slavery, demonstrates handicaps under which 
the historian labors when he is not in a position to control the eth- 
nography and geography of Africa as well as he does his documents. 
To illustrate this, an incident hitherto unrecorded may be set down. 
In discussing the problem of African tribal distribution, Phillips, a 
few years ago, posed the following question : "Have you, in your 
field work in West Africa, ever encountered a people often men- 
tioned in the literature, the Fantynes?" So varied has been the man- 
ner of writing tribal names that the meticulous technique of this 
historian did not permit him to deduce that the Fantynes of the 
documents and the great Fanti tribe of the present-day Gold Coast 
were identical, and that these people, who number considerably more 
than a million souls, were indeed the people meant in the slavers' 
reports. When the answer was given, the reaction of this scholar was 
primarily one of pleasure at having finally arrived at the solution to 
a problem that, as he stated at the time, had long troubled him. 

Notwithstanding this, Phillips was essentially correct in his as- 
sumption on provenience, even though he felt compelled to endorse 
the patterned conception of the wide range of operations in Africa 
itself. For if this conception caused him to write: 

The coffles came from distances ranging to a thousand miles or more, 
on rivers and paths whose shore ends the European traders could see 
but did not find inviting. . . . The swarm of their ships was particularly 
great in the Gulf of Guinea upon whose shores the vast fan-shaped 
hinterland poured its exiles among converging lines . . , 14 

he also reported many names of coastal tribes in giving the evalua- 
tions of the planters on various types of slaves they distinguished, 
and properly described the principal area of shipment in stating that : 

The markets most frequented by the English and American separate 
traders lay on the great middle stretches of the coast Sierra Leone, 
the Grain Coast (Liberia), the Ivory, Gold and Slave Coasts, the Oil 
Rivers as the Niger Delta was then called, Cameroon, Gaboon and 
Loango. 15 

Acting on a basic principle of his research a principle that is of 



THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS 41 

the soundest that for purposes of the study "of slavery the West 
Indies and the United States must be considered a unit, he details 
the categories of slaves recognized in Jamaica and elsewhere in the 
area. The names of these slave types are tribal or place names, all of 
which are to be found on present-day maps of Africa if one knows 
where to look and has sufficient detailed knowledge of the geography 
of Africa to facilitate equating the nomenclature of the period 
Senegalese, Coromatees, Whydahs, Nagoes, Pawpaws, Eboes, Mo- 
coes, Congoes, Angolas, Gambia (Mandingoes), Calabar with that 
now used. Phillips indicated the types of Negroes advertised as fugi- 
tives from the Jamaica workhouse, in the following passage : 

It would appear that the Congoes, Angolas and Eboes were especially 
prone to run away, or perhaps particularly easy to capture when fugi- 
tive, for among the 1046 native Africans advertised as runaways in the 
Jamaica workhouses in 1803 there were 284 Eboes and Mocoes, 185 
Congos and 259 Angolas as compared with 101 Mandingoes, 60 Chambas 
(from Sierra Leone), 70 Coromantees, 57 Nagoes and Pawpaws, and 
30 scattering, along with a total of 488 American-born negroes and 
mulattoes, and 187 unclassified. 16 

Other citations which indicate better knowledge than might be 
thought of the locale of slaving may also be quoted. Puckett with 
proper qualification in regard to the "thousand-mile" hypothesis 
under the heading "Sources of American Slaves" gives the fol- 
lowing : 

Roughly speaking, the six to twelve million Negro slaves brought to 
America came from that part of the West Coast of Africa between the 
Senegal and the Congo rivers. True enough these West Coast slave 
markets did in turn obtain some slaves from far in the interior of the 
continent, but the principal markets were about the mouths of the 
Senegal, Gambia, Niger and Congo, and the majority of the blacks were 
obtained from this West Coast region. 17 

The absence in this passage of any mention of the Gold Coast, "Slave" 
Coast (Dahomey and Togo), or western Nigeria is noteworthy, yet 
despite these omissions he reasons cogently regarding the population 
resources of this area, and the economic advantages of operation 
from it, though again he accepts explanations for the density in 
terms which, to say the least, are open to debate : 

Here was the locality closest to America, the one with the densest 
population (more than half the total population of Africa was located 
in this western equatorial zone), with the inhabitants consisting largely 
of the more passive inland people driven to the coast by inland tribes 



42 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

expanding towards the sea. This mild and pacific disposition was en- 
hanced by the tropical climate and excessive humidity of the coast. 18 

Renter gives the conventional statement : 

The Negroes brought to America were in the main of West African 
descent. For the most part they were bought or captured along the 
West Coast and the Guinea Negroes were by far the more numerous, 
constituting well over fifty per cent of the total importation. But the 
slaves secured along the Guinea Coast were by no means all of local 
origin. There were representatives of many different tribal stocks from 
many parts of the continent. The slave trails extended far into the 
interior of the continent and the slave coffles came by river and forest 
path sometimes for a thousand and more miles to the markets on the 
coast. 19 

Park likewise accepts the customary point of view : 

The great markets for slaves in Africa were on the West Coast, but 
the old slave trails ran back from the coast far into the interior of the 
continent, and all peoples of Central Africa contributed to the stream of 
enforced emigration to the New World. 20 

Weatherford and Johnson, who discuss the problem of Negro ori- 
gins on the basis of at least one contemporary source, 21 take a posi- 
tion somewhat more in accord with the facts. The conception of the 
' 'thousand-mile' ' trek to the coast here appears in somewhat reduced 
form 700 miles : 

The slaves brought to America came almost exclusively from the west 
coast. The English brought captives from the Senegal and Gambia 
rivers, from the Gold Coast, slave coast, and even as far south as 
Angola. The Dutch had forts on the Gold Coast, and in 1640 captured 
the Portuguese forts at Angola, where they gathered many slaves. The 
French had Fort Louis at the mouth of the Senegal river, and other 
forts scattered down the west coast. Anthony Benezet, who made a 
careful study of the slave trade, said that the slaves were regularly 
shipped from all points from the Senegal to Angola, a coast of nearly 
4,000 miles. The heart of the trade was the slave coast and the Gold 
Coast, and behind this a territory extending into the interior for 700 
miles or more. From this territory Senegalese Negroes, Mandingoes, 
Ibos, Efikes, Ibonis, Karamantis, Wydyas, Jolofs, Fulis, together with 
representatives of many of the interior Bantus were brought to 
America. 22 

It is not possible here to reproduce the detail in which Sir Harry 
H. Johnston indicates tribal origins, but the very richness of his 
suggestions, arising out of his acquaintance with the African scene 



THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS 43 

itself, reinforces the point already made of the importance of a 
proper background in studying provenience. 28 Of interest here is 
his statement that, of the language of the Sea Island Negroes off 
the Carolina and Georgia coast, "the few words I have seen in print 
appear to be of Yoruban stock or from the Niger Delta/* 24 



Recent data furnished by students of slaving and slavery give the 
historian far better information on all aspects of the trade than has 
hitherto been available. This is not to say that the resources, whether 
archival or of the earlier published works, have been exploited to 
the degree possible; for example, the works of French and Belgian 
students of the slave traffic, particularly as regards the trade out of 
the port of Nantes, seem to have been entirely ignored. Of these, 
one can cite the volumes of Rinchon, already mentioned in another 
connection, or of Gaston-Martin, 25 wherein many aspects of slavery, 
ordinarily subject to speculation, are treated with a wealth of fresh 
information. The importance of Rinchon's earlier work has already 
been indicated; his most recent volume presents, among other mat- 
ters, the most precise data that have as yet been brought to light on 
the proportion of slaves shipped to the New World who lost their 
lives in the hazards of the "middle passage/' In giving abstracts of 
the manifests of shipping out of Nantes, this author notes a star- 
tlingly low percentage of losses, as compared with previous esti- 
mates. 26 For he shows that, between 1748 and 1782, 541 slavers 
bought 146,799 slaves, and disposed of 127,133. The difference, 
19,666, or 13 per cent, would indicate that the losses from all causes 
during shipment and it by no means follows that these were deaths 
were much smaller than has been thought. 27 

This failure to go to sources is especially difficult to understand in 
the case of the West Indies a region that, as has long been recog- 
nized, took its slaves from the same localities of Africa as did the 
United States, and that, indeed, for many slaves served as an ac- 
climatizing ground for Negroes resold to the mainland. The most 
precise information as to the sources of slaves in the Virgin Islands, 
between 1772 and 1775, is contained in a report of the inspector 
general of the Moravian Missions, C. G. A. Oldendorp. 28 A man 
who lived before the science of ethnology was known, or such a 
subject as applied anthropology was dreamed of, he produced a 
model report which goes far in enabling the student of today to 
understand why Africanisms have been forced so deeply under- 



44 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

ground in the life of these islands, when their inhabitants are com- 
pared to the Negroes in other parts of the Antilles. For in this rarely 
cited work, we find what a man could discover when he queried 
"salt-water" slaves those born in Africa and asked them their 
places of birth, the names of their tribes and the peoples bordering 
on the areas their own groups occupied, the names of their rulers, 
their gods, and various words from their vocabularies. The harvest 
for the student of New World Negro origins who uses this book is, 
as might be imagined, a rich one so rich that only mere reference 
can here be made to its contents. So accurate is the reporting that 
almost every tribal name Oldendorp gives can be found on present- 
day maps of Africa an accuracy that is doubly assured when we 
find that he correctly distinguishes such confusing tribal designa- 
tions as Mandingo (Senegal) and Mondongo (Congo basin). 20 
Hartsinck and Stedman, writing of Dutch Guiana, 30 or Moreau de 
St. Mery and Charlevoix and Pere Labat, 31 reporting on the French 
West Indies, or Monk Lewis and Bryan Edwards for Jamaica, 82 
have likewise been far too little employed. Of the many significant 
works written by those active in the slave trade, Bosman and Snel- 
grave 33 are almost exclusively encountered. Brantz Mayer's Captain 
Canot?* popularized through a recent reprint, is sometimes used, but 
without any apparent realization that the case is an abnormal one, 
since Canot was a slaver who operated during the last years of the 
trade, when all the accentuated viciousness of an outlawed traffic 
would be expected to appear. 

The most precise information on the African sources of slaves 
brought to the United States is to be found in the documents pub- 
lished and analyzed by Miss Elizabeth Donnan. 35 Here, in con- 
venient compass, has been assembled information of special signifi- 
cance to the students of the trade as it affected the United States; 
a sampling so extensive that it is doubtful whether data from other 
collections, English or otherwise these volumes deal exclusively 
with British slaving operations can do more than fill in details of 
the picture she outlines. Especially important are the abstracts of 
manifests of slaving vessels landing cargoes in ports of continental 
United States. Since only raw materials are given, it is necessary for 
one who uses this work to compute totals and analyze the data statis- 
tically, but once this is done, a remarkably clear idea is had of the 
degree to which the various parts of Africa were drawn upon for 
human materials. Such an analysis discloses that those portions of 
West Africa named in this chapter as the regions where the fore- 



THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS 45 

runners of survivals are to be sought are mentioned in greatest 
prominence. 

These documents indicate the large difference in immediate 
sources of slaves brought to the northern colonies in the earlier days 
of the trade, on the one hand, and of those imported into the southern 
states. Phillips has remarked that the majority of the Negroes 
brought to the north were imported from the West Indies : 

In the Northern colonies at large the slaves imported were more gen- 
erally drawn from the West Indies than directly from Africa/ The 
reasons were several. Small parcels, better suited to the retail demand, 
might be brought more profitably from the sugar islands whither New 
England, New York and Pennsylvania ships were frequently plying 
than from Guinea whence special voyages must be made. Familiarity 
with the English language and the rudiments of civilization at the outset 
were more essential to petty masters than to the owners of plantation 
gangs who had means of breaking in fresh Africans by deputy. But 
most important of all, a sojourn in the West Indies would lessen the 
shock of acclimatization, severe enough under the best circumstances. 
The number of negroes who died from it was probably not small, and 
of those who survived some were incapacitated and bedridden with each 
recurrence of winter. 36 

This statement is entirely borne out by Miss Donnan's figures, for 
of the 4,551 slaves received in New York and New Jersey ports 
between 1715 and 1765, only 930 were native Africans. 37 The small 
numbers of slaves in each cargo the "retail" aspect of the trade to 
the North is likewise shown in the few credited to each ship, more 
than ten per vessel being the exception, and the large majority of 
manifests listing but two or three. This "retail" nature of slaving 
operations to the North, furthermore, is a factor of some conse- 
quence in assessing differential rates of acculturation to European 
patterns as between northern and southern Negroes, since the op- 
portunities for learning European ways were far greater for these 
northern Negroes than for slaves sent to the plantations of the South, 
or for those in the West Indies who lived even more remote from 
white contact. 

From the point of view of the African provenience of northern 
Negroes, the manifests tell us little even where a shipment came 
direct, since the entry, "coast of Affrica," is the one most frequently 
set down; something which, indeed, contrasts interestingly with the 
specific names of the West Indian ports where the slaves were pro- 
cured. What is important in the documents from the northern states 



46 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

are the letters of the slavers, who in reports to their owners mention 
the ports and the tribes which have been indicated as the source of 
New World slaves. Thus Captain Peleg Clarke, writing from "Cape 
Coast Roade" in the Gold Coast to John Fletcher under date of 
6 July, 1776, says: 

D'r Sir, In my former letters Pr Capt'ns Bold, Smith and others, I 
fully informed you in what manner I had disposed of my Cargo, and 
time agree'd on for payment was the middle of Augt. And Expected to 
be at Barbadoes in Novr and I Should purchase About 275 Slaves. I 
now add that Trade has been entirely Stop'd for this 6 Weeks pass'd, 
Owing to the Chief of the people a going back against the Asshantees 
to Warr, and are not yet returned, but there is no likelyhoods of comeing 
to battle as the Asshantees is returned back to their Country again, and 
it is not likely their will be any great matter of trade for this some time 
again, (as the Chief est of our trade comes through the Asshantees). 38 

There is full documentation to prove the unity of sources for the 
New World Negroes in these accounts, particularly in instructions 
to the captains of slaving vessels as to ports of call to dispose of 
their cargoes, and in the reports of these men telling of the ports at 
which they were to call or actually had called. Thus Samuel Waldo, 
of Boston, on March 12, 1734, handed these instructions to Captain 
Samuel Rhodes, in command of Waldo's sloop Africa: 

You will be a Judge of what may be most for my Intrist, so I shall 
entirely confide that You'll act accordingly in the Purchase of Negros, 
Gold Dust or any other the produce of that Country with which You'll 
as soon as possible make your Return to me either by way of the West 
Indies or Virginia where You'll sell Your Slaves either for Gold Silver 
or good Bills of Exch'e. ... If Your coming from off the Coast with 
Slaves will bring it towards Winter or late in the Fall before You can 
reach Virginia it will be best to go for the West Indies where by trying 
more or less the Islands You may probably do better than by selling att 
Virginia, . . ." 

The abstracts of ships' manifests which account for slaves im- 
ported into the southern colonies give much exact information about 
the African regions where their cargoes were procured. As is to be 
anticipated from the comparison of direct trading between Africa 
and northern and southern ports, the proportion of slaves reimported 
from the West Indies drops sharply. A tabulation of the raw data 
found in the manifests recorded from Virginia between the years 
1710 and 1769 gives the following results: 40 



THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS 47 

Source of origin given as "Africa" 20, 564 

Gambia (including Senegal and Goree) 3 ,652 

"Guinea" (from sources indicated as Gold Coast, Cabo- 

corso Castle, Bande, Bance Island, and Windward Coast) 6,777 

Calabar (Old Calabar, New Calabar and Bonny) 9,224 

Angola 3 , 860 

Madagascar 1 ,01 1 



Slaves brought directly from Africa 45,088 

Slaves imported from the West Indies 7 ,046 

Slaves from other North American ports 370 



52,504 

It is to be observed that in addition to ships indicated as arriving 
from "Africa" which gives no clue at all as to provenience except 
in so far as we wish to compare direct importation from that con- 
tinent with the West Indian trade the regions that figure most 
prominently are "Guinea," which means the west coast of Africa 
from the Ivory Coast to western Nigeria, Calabar, which represents 
the Niger Delta region, Angola, or the area about the lower Congo, 
and the Gambia. 

The shipments from Madagascar are of some interest, if only be- 
cause they indicate what small proportion of the slaves were drawn 
from ports other than those lying in the regions given as the prin- 
cipal centers of slaving operations. These 1,011 slaves out of 52,504 
brought to Virginia and, as will be seen shortly, the 473 listed as 
coming from Mozambique and East Africa out of 67,769 imported 
into South Carolina merely underscore the points made as to 
provenience and indicate how relatively slight the exceptions were. 
More importantly, such figures show how little basis exists for the 
widespread idea that New World Negroes represent a sampling of 
the population of the entire African continent. Various other docu- 
ments make this point one of the most striking is the following 
decision handed down by the general court of Maryland: 

Negro Mary v. The Vestry of William and Mary's Parish. 

Oct. i, 1796 3 Har. & M'Hen. 501 

Petition for freedom. It was admitted the petitioner was descended from 
negro Mary, imported many years ago into this country from Madagas- 
car, and the question was, whether she was entitled to her freedom. 

It was contended that Madagascar was not a place from which slaves 
were brought, and that the act of 1715 related only to slaves brought 
in the usual course of the trade. On the other side, it was contended, that 
the petty provinces of Madagascar make war upon each other for slaves 
and plunder ; and they carry on the slave trade with Europeans. 

Per. Cur. Madagascar being a country where the slave trade is prac- 



48 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

ticed, and this being a country where it is tolerated, it is incumbent on 
the petition to show her ancestor was free in her own country to entitle 
her to freedom. 41 

In view of all available figures, it is understandable how Negro 
Mary came to base her hope of freedom on the fact that she, of 
Malagasy descent, was to be exempted from bondage because her 
enslaved ancestress had been taken from a country outside "the usual 
course of the trade." 

The slaves imported into South Carolina between 1733 and 1785 
as listed by Miss Donnan, when tabulated, show them to have been 
derived from the following African sources: 42 

Origin given as "Africa" 4, 146 

From the Gambia to Sierra Leone 12 ,441 

Sierra Leone 3 , 906 

Liberia and the Ivory Coast (Rice and Grain Coasts) 3*851 

"Guinea Coast" (Gold Coast to Calabar) 18,240 

Angola 11,485 

Congo 10,924 

Mozambique 243 

East Africa 230 



Imported from Africa 65 ,466 

Imported from the West Indies 2 ,303 



67,769 

It would be of interest further to document the origins of the 
various groups of New World Negroes with comparable figures 
from the West Indies and South America, but far less data for these 
regions have been made available than for the United States. Such 
as do exist, however, support the assumption of essential unity stated 
in these pages. Rinchon's materials for the French West Indies 
name sources of origin of cargoes only in terms of "Senegal," 
"Guinea," "Angola," and "Mozambique," though figures even in 
such categories do offer Supporting data in showing that only 17 out 
of the 1,313 cargoes listed for the years 1713 to 1792 came from 
East Africa. One interesting point is the small number of Senegalese 
shipments ; which means that as far as the West Indian receivers in 
Haiti, Martinique, Cayenne, Trinidad, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and 
Suriname were concerned, the vast majority of the slaves they 
bought, from ships owned and operated out of the French port of 
Nantes, were from the region lying between the Gold Coast and 
Angola. 43 Mr. J. G. Cruickshank, archivist of British Guiana, has 
studied the materials to be found in the files of the Essequibo and 
Demerary Gazette for the years i8o3-i8o7. 44 These materials con- 



THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS 49 

sist mainly of advertisements of "new" Negroes, designated as to 
African type. When classified according to the regions given in the 
tables of figures calculated from Miss Donnan's work, they indicate 
the same points of origin : 45 

Windward Coast 3,0.14 

Gold Coast 3593 

Evo (Calabar) 820 

Angola 1 ,051 

'Others 1 ,029 

In 1789, Stephen Fuller, agent for Jamaica in London, published 
(by order of the House of Assembly of that colony) two reports 
for the Committee of the House which had been appointed to ex- 
amine into the slave trade and the treatment of Negroes. Bryan 
Edwards, known for his History of the British West Indies, .who 
gathered the materials, reproduced the accounts of five brokerage 
firms, giving records of the Negroes imported from Africa and sold 
by them. Four of these gave the sources of origin of their slaves in 
such fashion as to make tabulation possible. Combined in the fol- 
lowing table, the four lists represent shipments for the years 1764- 
1774 for the first firm, 1782-1788 for the second, 1779-1788 for 
the third, and 1786-1788 for the last; the data themselves, when 
tabulated, support the position taken here : 4a 

Gambia 673 

Windward Coast 2,669 

Gold Coast I43 12 

Anamaboe 8 ,488 

"Gold Coast" 5,824 

Togo and Dahomey 39i2 

Pawpaw 131 

Whydah 3.781 

Niger Delta 10,305 

Benin 1 ,039 

Bonny 3*052 

Calabar and Old Calabar 6,214 

Gaboon 155 

Angola i ,984 



Total 34,010 

With the principal areas of slaving established, and direct com- 
parability in terms of the cultural background common to Negroes 
in all the New World proved by the documentary evidence, the final 
step in discovering the most significant tribal origins is greatly 
simplified. For we need merely turn to those works, written by men 
and women who surveyed the scene of slavery while it was at its 
height in the West Indies, and utilize the many tribal names con- 



50 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

tained therein names which, when located in Africa, are found to 
lie within the regions indicated as those where the most intense slav- 
ing was carried on. The Ashanti and Fanti of the Gold Coast, the 
former most frequently termed Coromantes after a place name of 
their homeland, are mentioned most often by those who wrote of 
the British possessions, continental as well as insular. The Dahomean 
and allied peoples, at times called Whydahs, after the major sea- 
coast town of Dahomey, or Pawpaws, from Popo, a town not far to 
the west, are especially prominent in the French writings. The 
French planters had little liking for the Gold Coast slaves, and these 
scarcely figure in Moreau de St. Mery's listing of tribes represented 
in Haiti ; in similar manner, the Dahomeans, who were the favorite 
slaves of the French, were not fancied by the English, as is to be seen 
when we contrast the 14,312 Gold Coast Negroes in our list of 
Jamaica imports with the 3,912 from Dahomey. 

Another type of slave frequently mentioned is the Nago. This 
term is used for the Yoruba of western Nigeria, whose language is 
called by that name. Historical records for those parts of Latin 
America where present-day Negro customs have been studied, Cuba 
and Brazil, are not available. In the case of the latter, they were 
burned to wipe out every trace of slavery when the Negroes were 
emancipated in that country; and if they exist for Cuba, they have 
not been published. But such data as we have establish that the Nago 
slaves were favorites of the Spanish and Portuguese planters; from 
which it follows that it is logical to find Yoruban customs pre- 
ponderant in the African survivals reported from these countries. 
For the rest of the slaving area, evidences of Africanisms are frag- 
mentary. The Mandingo, Senegalese, and Hausa of the subdesert 
area to the north have left traces of their presence, principally in 
Brazil. The vast masses of Congo slaves that we know were im- 
ported have made their influence felt disproportionately little, though 
a few tribal names, a few tribal deities, some linguistic survivals, 
and more often the word "Congo" itself are encountered. 

The mechanism that determined survival of customs and nomen- 
clature of some African tribes in the New World, and not others, 
may probably be connected with the geographical spread of the slave 
trade itself. In the earliest days, before the trade became a major 
industry, Senegal was most important. Yet though in the aggregate 
many slaves were brought from this region, not enough from any 
one group came at this earlier period to make possible the establish- 
ment of their common customs in the new home. As the demand for 
slaves surpassed the human resources of this less densely populated 



THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS 51 

region, the traders came more and more to seek their goods along 
the Guinea coast, and here most of the slaving was carried on dur- 
ing the last half of the eighteenth century. With the nineteenth 
century, the weight of the abolitionist movement began to make it- 
self felt, and when the trade was outlawed, the captains of slave 
vessels had to cruise more widely than before. They found the Congo 
ports, under Portuguese control, most hospitable ; and this is reflected 
in Miss Donnan's work, which on analysis makes it apparent that 
slaves were shipped from the Congo in increasing numbers toward 
the latter days of the traffic. 47 

The fact that the slave captains ranged more widely as time 
passed, perhaps because the difficulties of supplying their needs on 
the Guinea coast increased as the demands for slaves became greater, 
is likewise shown if a recapitulation be made of the ships sailing 
from Nantes, in terms of the African ports where they obtained 
their cargoes : 48 

Year Region of Origin of Cargo 

Senegal Guinea Angola Mozambique 

1748 6 4 

1749 24 9 

1750 I 14 7 

1751 i ii 5 

1752 2 20 8 

1753 3 77 8 

1754 i Jj 7 

1755 155 

* * 

1763 24 9 

1764 2 20 8 

1765 18 12 

1766 3 ii ii 

1767 J5 6 

1768 I Jj 4 

1769 18 6 

1770 2 10 8 

1771 i 13 9 

1772 2 8 6 

1773 i jj 10 

1774 2 6 10 

1775 JJ 6 

1776 I 12 5 

1777 JJ 2 

* * * 

1783 8 n 18 

1784 3 8 Q 

1785 II II 14 2 



52 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Year Region of Origin of Cargo 

Senegal Guinea Angola Mozambique 

1786 6 10 15 3 

1787 15 17 I 

1788 16 16 2 

1789 19 22 

1790 18 22 2 

1791 I 9 *7 2 

1792 2 8 18 3 

Not until 1783, except for one year, does the Congo traffic exceed 
that from the Guinea coast ; but after this time the French traders 
also, because of economic and political reasons that need not be gone 
into here, turned increasingly southward. And while not a single 
Mozambique cargo appears until 1785, after that year the demand 
seems to have been great enough to cause a few ships to be sent there 
annually. It must be observed, however, that the number is too slight 
to influence appreciably the demography of the New World Negro 
population. 

Let us consider another facet of the problem. It is not difficult to 
see that the slaves who came late to the New World had to accom- 
modate themselves to patterns of Negro behavior established earlier 
on the basis of the customs of the tribes represented during the 
middle period of slaving. In Haiti, Congo slaves are said to have 
been more complacent than those from other parts of Africa, and 
were held in contempt by those Negroes who refused to accept the 
slave status with equanimity. Tradition has it that when the blacks 
rose in revolt, these Congo slaves were killed in large numbers, since 
it was felt they could not be trusted. Mr. Cruickshank has advanced 
a cogent suggestion : 

. . . from what I have learned from old Negroes ... it would ap- 
pear that the three or four African Nations who were brought here in 
predominant numbers imposed their language, beliefs, etc., gradually on 
the others. In course of time there were not enough of the minority 
tribes on an estate to take part in customs, dances and the like, or even 
to carry on the language. There was nobody left to talk to! Children 
growing up heard another African language far of tener than their own ; 
they were even laughed at when they said some of their mother's words 
when they "cut country," as it was said and so the language of the 
minority tribes, and much else though probably never all died out. 49 

Though African survivals in the United States are far fewer than 
in British Guiana, nonetheless, a similar process may well have oper- 
ated. It might also be hazarded that, in the instance of early Sene- 



THE SEARCH FOR TRIBAL ORIGINS S3 

galese arrivals, whatever was retained of aboriginal custom was 
overshadowed by the traditions of the more numerous Guinea coast 
Negroes; while as for late-comers such as the Congo Negroes, the 
slaves they found were numerous enough, and well enough estab- 
lished, to have translated their modes of behavior always in so far 
as Africanisms are concerned, and without reference to the degree 
of acculturation to European habits into community patterns. 

The indisputable survivals in those parts of the New World where 
a considerable degree of African culture is found today in pure 
form are to be traced to a relatively restricted region of the area 
where slaving was carried on ; this simplifies the problems we must 
face in drawing up our base line for the study of deviation from 
African tradition, leading to the two tasks which constitute the next 
step in our analysis. The cultures of the tribes of the area must first 
be described as an aid to direct comprehension of the New World 
data, and this description must be compared with published accounts 
of the Negro's cultural heritage. We must then determine whether 
more generalized aspects of West African culture are to be dis- 
covered. For if such aspects are held in common both by the dom- 
inant tribes and by all the other folk of the entire area from which 
slaves were brought, we will be afforded further insight into those 
more subtle survivals which, because they represent the deepest 
seated aspects of African tradition, have persisted even where overt 
forms of African behavior and African custom have completely 
disappeared. 



Chapter III 
THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 



Judged by references in the literature, the writers who in the United 
States have most influenced concepts of the Negro's African heritage 
are Tillinghast, 1 Dowd 2 and Weatherford. 3 But since all these went 
to the same sources for their African materials, where they did not 
draw on the works of each other, and none had firsthand contact 
with any of the native peoples he mentions, their substantial agree- 
ment in describing and, what is more significant, in evaluating the 
civilizations of Guinea is not surprising. The unanimity of their 
findings is important for the support it has afforded the concepts of 
aboriginal cultural endowment of the Negro presented by any one of 
them. 

It is of some interest to outline briefly the materials which they 
employed. Most frequent are references to what were but secondary 
sources even when they were first made available. Especially useful 
to them were the several compendia that were written to give ready 
access to the various forms of primitive civilizations known at the 
time they were written, a feat impossible today, with the develop- 
ment of scientific ethnology and its rich and numerous field studies. 
Citations to such works as A. H. Keane's Man: Past and Present, 
Ratzel's History of Mankind, Waitz' Anthropologie der Natur- 
volker, D. G. Brinton's Races and Peoples, and Elisee Reclus* 
Universal Geography, appear again and again. Even granting the 
contemporary usefulness of these works, it is questionable whether 
there ever was justification for the student of the Negro in the 
United States, concerned with the problem of African background, 
to base his analysis of the aboriginal cultures on "sources" such as 
these. Yet the tradition lingers on, and the failure of more recent 
scholars to employ the modern data and the critical tools at their 
disposal is lamentable. If the plea is entered that these recent scien- 
tific analyses of West African cultures are difficult to use, this is 

54 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 55 

but a confession of an inadequacy which speaks for itself when 
conclusions are evaluated. 

How persistent is the tradition of being content with well-worn 
obiter dicta may be seen in the following quotation from the most 
recent edition of Reuter's textbook a work wherein African back- 
ground takes a prominent place in the argument : 

The African Negroes, representing as they do many separate tribal 
groups, have a variety of sex mores and marriage and family customs 
differing widely from one another. The reliable data are still fragmen- 
tary ; dependence must be had in some part upon the reports of mission- 
aries and officials and upon the impressionistic accounts of travelers. 
These accounts are of course prone to a considerable degree of biased 
error. The scientific and dependable studies are mainly local and of 
somewhat limited tribal application. A further difficulty to the under- 
standing of the African Negro family organization results from the fact 
that the present native family structure is in many cases highly disor- 
ganized through tribal intermixture and as a result of foreign contacts 
and missionary activities. General statements are in consequence difficult 
and subject to numerous individual and tribal exceptions. 4 

Most of this passage is sheer nonsense. Denial of most of its asser- 
tions can be documented by reference to the relevant passages in the 
following section, or to the monographs on West Africa previously 
cited. 5 The variety of "sex mores and marriage and family customs" 
in "Africa" (West Africa?) can be considered unusually great only 
if we are unaware of the underlying similarities which support local 
variations. Present native family structure is not at all "highly dis- 
organized" but, as a matter of fact, has been scarcely touched by 
European contact which, because of the debilitating effect of the 
climate on whites, is for most individual tribesmen casual in West 
Africa. It is surely unnecessary today to rely upon the "impres- 
sionistic accounts of travelers" for information concerning African 
customs. That the "scientific and dependable studies are mainly local 
and of somewhat limited tribal application" should be no obstacle to 
a scholar who wishes to make use of them. This passage may thus 
be taken as a complaint that no recent summary is at hand for those 
who are bewildered by technical descriptions of complex institutions 
in societies whose simplicity has long been uncritically taken for 
granted. 

Aside from the compendia mentioned, those who, like Tillinghast, 
Dowd, Weatherford, and others to whom we are at the morrient 
giving our attention, write of Africa also lean heavily on the works 
of A. B. Ellis. 6 Though Ellis had actual experience on the Gold 



56 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Coast and at least visited the other areas of which he wrote, he is 
notorious among Africanists for his uncritical borrowing from other 
authors. The vogue of his volumes has perhaps come from their 
logical organization, facile style of writing, and congeniality of in- 
terpretation. Today specialists in the field hold him outmoded and 
of but negligible value the dates of publication of his books are 
eloquent on this point ; the deficiencies of his best work, on the Gold 
Coast tribes, have been repeatedly pointed out by such an authority 
as Rattray. Among students of the Negro in the United States who 
are not willing to do the reading necessary to take advantage of 
scientific studies made with modern field methods, his authority 
continues undiminished. The older travelers' accounts also are drawn 
on in the American attempts to describe West African culture, with 
the writings of Bosnian, Barbot, Norris, Proyart, and Snelgrave 7 
figuring repeatedly in the references. Some of the best of these 
observers are almost entirely neglected Bowdich for the Gold 
Coast, for example, or Burton for Dahomey. 8 The works of Miss 
Mary Kingsley, a Victorian lady of much courage and an excellent 
observer, but whose evaluations were far too often influenced by 
the period in which she lived, are also favored, as are the writings of 
Nassau, a missionary whose biases are patent. 9 

While in the case of Tillinghast, at least, most of the available 
sources of his time were drawn on, no attempt was made by him to 
test his conclusions by reference to the textual consistency of the 
data themselves. An acquaintance with the writings which he and 
others like him cite need not be extensive to show that the estimates 
of African culture found in these books by no means always flow 
from the facts as presented. Using him as an example, then, his 
assertions may be sampled to determine whether his descriptions of 
West African culture are valid in the light of modern findings. We 
are told that the West African : 

. . . lives under conditions adverse to the growth of industrial effi- 
ciency ; ... so abundant is nature's provision for food and other wants, 
that with little effort they obtain what is needed. ... In the case of 
cultivated produce, the fertility of the soil and the climatic advantages 
are such that very large returns are yielded to slight labor. 10 

Actually, the climate of West Africa is like all tropical climates at 
low altitudes. It permits a rich yield if crops are undisturbed, but 
crops are so rarely undisturbed that the hazards of agriculture are 
far greater than in the temperate zone. The conception of the native 
as one pampered by nature is thus entirely fallacious. The African's 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 57 

ability for sustained toil, his need to work and work hard if he is to 
extract a living from the soil, have been remarked by all those who 
have made serious firsthand studies of the labor required to main- 
tain life in the region. Should precise testimony be desired awaiting 
the appearance of Harris' analyses of the actual number of hours 
spent in work by the Ibo, 11 reference may be made to the study by 
Forde, 12 wherein the effort and planning involved in carrying on 
agriculture among the Yako of the region which lies at the bend of 
the west coast are made plain. 
Again, Tillinghast informs us : 

Previous to the appearance of Europeans, the extreme west coast of 
Africa was completely isolated from the outside world ; its inhabitants 
lived in scattered villages buried in the forest, and remained in dense 
ignorance of any other desirable objects than the necessities of their 
own savage life. Among the forces which have helped to civilize other 
peoples has been the stimulus to effort arising from newly conceived 
wants, quickened into being at the discovery of commodities, first 
brought by strangers. The appearance of Europeans with new and at- 
tractive commodities, produced a great effect. To get them in exchange 
for native products, thousands of negroes were moved to unwonted 
exertions, while foreigners taught them new and better methods of 
production. All this, however, has been comparatively recent, and for 
ages the negroes were without such incitements to industry. 13 

Once more, misstatements are found in almost every line. The phi- 
losophy underlying most of the assertions, a kind of naive laissez- 
faire economics which holds progress to be in some way related to a 
constant accretion in the range of wants, is immediately apparent. 
That isolation in terms of lack of contact by sea might be replaced 
with land-borne commerce across the Sahara never seems to have 
occurred to this writer, as it seldom occurs to others who speak of 
the "isolation" of Africa. Yet from the earliest times the Ashanti, 
for example, acquired silk cloths from Tunis and Morocco, which 
they unraveled, redyed and rewove into great chiefs' silk cloths. The 
"isolated villages" spoken of are in many cases population centers of 
considerable size Ibadan, Nigeria, has some 325,000 inhabitants 
while the dense forests are in many parts nonexistent, since the land 
is required to support this population. 

"Division of labor has proceeded but a very little way/' 14 we are 
told this perhaps being written with Adam Smith's statement re- 
garding the importance of this factor in making for economic ad- 
vancement in mind. 



58 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

The number of handicraftsmen in any given tribe is small, and their 
special skill is jealously withheld from the common herd. . . . These 
simple folk exist somehow on an incredibly meagre supply of imple- 
ments and weapons. Even in the manual arts women are compelled to 
do all the drudgery of collecting raw material, etc. All these facts reveal 
how the great mass of male population escapes distasteful toil. 15 

Here also we are confronted with assertions that are directly con- 
travened by the facts. As will be seen, the large number of spe- 
cialized crafts are indicative of a corresponding degree of division 
of labor. The popular assumption of the savage male as lazy, allow- 
ing his women to carry on the work necessary for subsistence, is 
far removed from the actuality of the sex division of labor, which 
invades all fields. That the women do agricultural labor 16 is but an 
expression of the forms of sex division of labor universal in human 
societies, literate or not; in Africa the arrangement makes the men 
responsible for the really heavy work of preparing the fields, and 
leaves to the women the lighter tasks of caring for the growing 
plants, harvesting the crops, and preparing food. As a matter of 
fact, the economic position of women in West Africa is high. It is 
based on the fact that the women are traders quite as much as agri- 
cultural workers, and on recognition that what they earn is their 
own. They do none of the iromvorking or wood carving or house- 
building or weaving or carrying of burdens or other heavy labor. 
This is reserved for the men. They unquestionably contribute their 
share to the support of the household and the community; but they 
are not the exploited creatures undisciplined fancy would have them. 
It is not possible here to detail all the misconceptions which char- 
acterize Tillinghast's descriptions of West African life, among them 
statements expounding a presumed inadequacy of West African 
technology, simplicity of the system of trade, and absence of social 
morality in the religious concepts of the people a fact refuted by 
the widely spread incidence of belief that the gods punish antisocial 
behavior, which, needless to say, is an important moral sanction. It 
could be shown how Tillinghast agrees that wives are "bought" and 
that cannibalism was "once practised universally." 17 Political devel- 
opment is indicated as being "on a par with the low stage attained in 
all other directions" 18 specific reference being made to the Ashanti 
and to Dahomey, where "vanquished tribes are extinguished by 
slaughter or held as slaves/' Or we learn of "customs regulating 
property and personal relations after a crude fashion," 19 another 
error the more glaring in the light of general recognition of the 
African's "legal genius." All these misconceptions are evaluated 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 59 

with a wealth of adjectival embroidery which makes it impossible 
for the reader to conceive of the civilizations of the region as any- 
thing but outstanding examples of a low state of savagery a sav- 
agery that, as the author surmises, is the source of the Negro's 
assumed insufficiency in mastering white culture in the United States. 
Similarly, it is not possible, even were it necessary, to cite from 
the works of those others who have perpetuated these misinterpreta- 
tions of African culture. Excerpts from the writings of Dowd, or 
Weatherford, or others would be repetitious, but to illustrate the tena- 
ciousness of the point of view, quotations from two volumes will be 
given. The first of these books, by Mecklin, was published in 1914, 
and, like the others, is found in most bibliographies of books and 
articles dealing with the Negro in the United States : 

The most striking feature of the African negro is the low forms of 
social organization, the lack of industrial and political cooperation, and 
consequently the almost entire absence of social and national self- 
consciousness. This rather than intellectual inferiority explains the lack 
of social sympathy, the presence of such barbarous institutions as can- 
nibalism and slavery, the low position of woman, inefficiency in the indus- 
trial and mechanical arts, the low type of group morals, rudimentary 
art-sense, lack of race pride and self-assertiveness, and an intellectual 
and religious life largely synonymous with fetichism and sorcery. 20 

It is scarcely necessary to point out once more that almost every 
assertion in this statement is incorrect; indeed, it is rare, even in 
works on the Negro, to come upon a paragraph with such a high 
concentration of error as this. The most glaring of these misconcep- 
tions, viewed from the perspective of the last three decades of art 
history, is the statement concerning the "rudimentary art-sense" of 
the Africans. For an outstanding development of modern art has 
been the steady growth of interest in African West African 
wood carving and other art forms, and the influence of these forms 
on many of the painters of the present day. 

Reuter, whose textbook has already been quoted as an example 
of the manner in which this approach and point of view still lives in 
standard works dealing with the Negro population of the United 
States, will give our series its most recent instance. The excerpt is 
from the second edition, which, appearing in 1938, can be taken to 
represent the present position of its author. Social life in West 
Africa is dismissed in this edition (the earlier one 21 went into some 
detail concerning African family life in terms typical of what has 
been cited in the way of misconception), with the statement that, 
"The family institution [was] never highly developed among the 



60 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

West African tribes/' No qualification is given this statement, as 
the author proceeds to explain how such a weak institution could not 
but give way under slavery in the United States, when it encoun- 
tered the presumably stronger European type of family. 

More revealing for our purpose at the moment, however, is the 
description of the patterns of West African religious life. As will 
later be seen, this is unusually complex, and represents one of the 
most sophisticated aspects of the cultures in the region. Because the 
following is taken as authoritative by the large numbers of those 
it has reached, it may be cited at some length, to permit a realization 
of its total effect : 

The religion of the African was, basically, a crude and simple demon- 
ology. It began and ended in a belief in spirits and in the practices 
designed to court their favor and to avoid the consequences of their 
displeasure. There was a lack of unity and system resulting from the 
decentralization and absence of unity in the political and social life. . . . 
Fear was the basic element in the religious complex of the Negroes. In 
the conditions of primitive existence in the African environment it could 
not well have been otherwise. The life of the native was never safe. Per- 
sonal danger was the universal fact of life. There was an almost com- 
plete lack of control of natural forces. The forests and rivers were full 
of dangerous animals, and dangerous human enemies were always close 
at hand. The insect pests and the tropical diseases made the conditions of 
life hard and its duration brief. To the real dangers were added an 
abundance of malignant spirits. An ever present fear of the natural and 
supernatural enemies was the normal condition of daily life and pro- 
tection was the ever present need. These facts everywhere found ex- 
pression in the religious and magical beliefs and practices. The state of 
religious development varied considerably with tribal groups. In some 
tribes nature worship was elaborated to the point where definite super- 
natural powers had been differentiated to preside over definite spheres 
of life. In other groups the basic fetichism was modified by and com- 
bined with a worship of nature. In certain of the politically more ad- 
vanced groups ancestor worship was an important element in the 
religious complex. But everywhere the practices were directly designed 
to placate or coerce the malignant and insure the co-operation of the 
beneficent powers. Since it was the nature of the latter to aid, the cultus 
procedure in their case was less important and was quite commonly 
neglected. Magic, both sympathetic and imitative, was practiced by pri- 
vate individuals as well as by professional magicians. Sickness, accident, 
injury, death, and other misfortunes were attributed to evil influences 
exercised by or through some person, and the effort to find the persons 
guilty of exercising evil influence lay at the basis of the witch trials 
and the other bloody religious sacrifices of the African peoples. 22 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 61 

A brief analysis of this passage is called for, since only in this 
way may its misstatements be set forth. Much of what is said here, 
if divested of comment and evaluative adjectives, might be regarded 
as true in a generalized sense, as, for example, that there are good 
as well as evil forces or that nature worship obtains. Yet words like 
"crude" and "simple," or the emphasis on naivete, and, above all, 
the picture of the fear-ridden native ; the conception of the dangers 
of the environment, which, it may be said, gives an excellent glimpse 
into the imaginings of the armchair traveler as he dreams of the 
tropical jungle and its denizens, are far from the truth. Equally 
fallacious are the presumed neglect of the beneficent powers, whose 
existence in the system is mentioned because of the author's belief 
in the preoccupation of the native with the forces of evil, and the 
manner in which the role of magic is conceived. All these leave a 
residue of impression calculated to prepare the reader for the in- 
capability of the Negro, with a background of tradition such as this, 
to grasp higher and more restrained aspects of belief and ceremonial- 
ism such as he presumably encountered in the New World. 



Today, as in the days of the great traffic in slaves, the tribes living 
in the heart of the slaving area are the Akan-Ashanti folk of the 
Gold Coast, the Dahomeans, the Yoruba of western Nigeria, and the 
Bini of eastern Nigeria. Composites of many smaller groups, 
welded through a long process of conquest into more or less homo- 
geneous kingdoms, they share many traits in common. Their num- 
bers are large as primitive societies go, and consequently many prob- 
lems of economic, social, and political organization must be met if 
smooth functioning is to be achieved. It follows that complex insti- 
tutions in those fields are the rule. The ensuing discussion will touch 
upon those aspects of the cultures of these kingdoms which, germane 
to their functioning, have been impinged upon but little by the cir- 
cumstances of European political domination. 

The economic life, adapted to the support of large populations, 
is far more intricate than is customarily expected or, indeed, found 
among nonliterate folk. Essentially agricultural, all these societies 
manifest a considerable degree of specialization, from which are 
derived the arrangements for the exchange of goods that take the 
form principally of stated markets, wherein operations are carried 
on with the aid of a monetary system which, ifi pre-European days, 
was based on the cowry shell to facilitate the expression of values. 



62 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

The economic system permits the production of a substantial sur- 
plus over the needs of subsistence, and the support of rulers, priests, 
and their subordinates. As a result, a class structure has been erected 
on this economic base that has tended to encourage that disciplined 
behavior which marks every phase of life. In the field of production, 
this discipline takes the form of a pattern of cooperative labor under 
responsible direction, and such mutual self-help is found not only 
in agricultural work, but in the craft guilds, characteristically or- 
ganized on the basis of kinship. This genius for organization also 
manifests itself in the distributive processes. Here the women play 
an important part. Women, who are for the most part the sellers in 
the market, retain their gains for themselves, often becoming inde- 
pendently wealthy. With their high economic status, they have like- 
wise perfected disciplined organizations to protect their interests in 
the markets. These organizations comprise one of the primary price- 
fixing agencies, prices being set on the basis of supply and demand, 
with due consideration for the cost of transporting goods to market. 

Slavery has long existed in the entire region, and in at least one 
of its kingdoms, Dahomey, a kind of plantation system was found 
under which an absentee ownership, with the ruler as principal, de- 
manded the utmost return from the estates, and thus created condi- 
tions of labor resembling the regime the slaves were to encounter 
in the New World. Whether this system was the exception rather 
than the rule cannot be said, for this aspect of the economic order, 
as the first suppressed under European rule, is not easy to document 
satisfactorily. On the whole, slaveholding was of the household vari- 
ety, with large numbers of slaves the property of the chief, and 
important either as export goods (to enable the rulers to obtain 
guns, gunpowder, European cloths, and other commodities) or as 
ritual goods (for the sacrifices, required almost exclusively of roy- 
alty, in the worship of their powerful ancestors). 

The economic base of the social structure is most apparent when 
the role of the relationship group in the production and distribution 
of wealth is considered. Essentially, this structure comprises as its 
principal elements the polygynous family; legal recognition of kin- 
ship through one line, with the nonrelated side of varying impor- 
tance ranging from the noninstitutionalized sentimental relation- 
ship with the mother's family in patrilineal Dahomey and among 
the Yoruba to the Ashanti system wherein an individual inherits his 
position in society on the maternal side and his spiritual affiliations 
from the father; the "extended family/' a well-recognized institu- 
tion which affords a more restricted relationship grouping than the 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 63 

sib (clan) ; and finally the sib itself, comprising large numbers of 
persons whose face-to- face contact with each other may be intimate 
or casual or nonexistent. Guild organization tends, in the majority 
of cases, to follow the lines of these kinship groupings. Since the 
principal occupation is agriculture, landholdings are conceived in 
terms of family rather than individual rights; and while, as in all 
primitive societies, a man has the exclusive ownership of the pro- 
duce of whatever land he works, the land itself is not his. As a mem- 
ber of a relationship group of considerable size, however, he has an 
assurance of support in time of need. This has contributed largely 
to the stability of these societies, since the economic aspect reinforces 
the social one in a peculiarly intimate manner, and causes the rela- 
tionship group to hold added significance for its members. 

The fundamental sanction of the kinship system is the ancestral 
cult, which, in turn, is a closely knit component of the prevailing 
world view. The power of a man does not end with death, for the 
dead are so integral a part of life that differences in power of the 
living are carried on into the next world. Just as among the living 
individuals of royal or chiefly blood are the most powerful, so the 
royal or chiefly ancestors are conceived as the most potent of all 
the dead. The dead in Dahomey and among the Yoruba, at least, are 
deified ; among the Ashanti, this remains to be studied. The relation- 
ship between the ancestors and the gods is close, but the origin of 
this collaboration is obscure and extremely difficult to establish. Evi- 
dence adduced by Bascom 23 indicates that at least in the Nigerian 
city of Ife, the spiritual center of Yoruba religious life, the beings 
conceived elsewhere as gods are there regarded as ancestors. The 
sib mythologies collected in Dahomey would also seem to indicate 
something of a similar order, certain sibs being considered as de- 
scended from various gods, though there is no sib without its "old- 
est ancestor," who figures importantly in the daily life of each mem- 
ber of the group. 

The elaborateness of funeral rites in the area is cast in terms of 
the role of the ancestors in the lives of their descendants, and be- 
cause it is important to have the assurance of the ancestral good will, 
the dead are honored with extended and costly rituals. In all this 
region, in fact, the funeral is the true climax of life, and no belief 
drives deeper into the traditions of West African thought. For the 
problem of New World survivals this is of paramount importance, 
for whatever else has been lost of aboriginal custom, the attitudes 
toward the dead as manifested in meticulous rituals cast in the 
mold of West African patterns have survived. 



64 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

As in most primitive societies, the sib functions in regulating 
marriage, since mating between sib mates or other relatives of legally 
established affiliation and, among the Ashanti, on the side of "spirit- 
ual" affiliation, is forbidden as incestuous. This is not as much a 
handicap in finding a mate as in smaller groups having similar prohi- 
bitions, since with dense populations such as are found in West 
Africa there is no lack of eligible mates outside the sib. The major 
problem, where a marriage is contemplated, thus merely involves 
the tracing of descent lines to ensure that no common affiliation 
stands in the way. Far more important, as a matter of fact, is the 
assurance that the suitor has resources and substantial family sup- 
port to make of him a responsible husband, and that the young 
woman has had the training to make a competent wife. 

Qualifications are carefully scrutinized by both families, for, as 
in so many primitive societies, marriage is a matter of family alli- 
ance. This is not to be construed that the common dictum, that 
affection does not enter, is valid. In contradiction to this may be 
cited the frequency of runaway marriages recognized by the Da- 
homeans as one of the principal forms of marriage as an expedi- 
ent of the young people to circumvent unwelcome matings arranged 
by those of their social group who have legal control over their be- 
havior. In all this region the obligations of the man to the parents 
of his bride are paramount, not only before but after marriage. Yet 
the characterization of African marriage as "bride purchase" is no 
more valid here than elsewhere. As a matter of fact, in this region 
what the husband gives his parents-in-law is regarded essentially as 
a form of collateral for good behavior, though the social worth to a 
man's sib of prospective issue does figure psychologically. 

The widespread character of polygyny gives rise to a number of 
important research problems. In so far as New World Negro life is 
concerned, the deep-seated nature of the pattern of plural marriage 
aids greatly in accounting for some of the aberrant types oT family 
organization to be found. Of outstanding significance in this con- 
nection is the relationship between father and children as against 
mother and children. For where a man has plural wives, the off- 
spring of any one woman must share their father with those of 
other women, while they share their mother with none but other 
children by her. This psychological fact is reinforced by the physical 
setting of family life in this area, as well as by the principles of 
inheritance of wealth, which obtain at least among the Yoruba and 
in Dahomey. The family is typically housed in a compound, which 
is a group of structures surrounded by a wall or a hedge, to give the 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 65 

total complex a physical unity. The head of the household, the eldest 
male, and all other adult males, married or unmarried ( for in some 
parts of the area, young married sons, or younger married brothers 
and their children, may live in a father or elder brother's compound), 
have individual huts of their own, to which their wives come in turn 
to live with them and, for a stated period, to care for their needs. 
Each wife has her own dwelling, however, where she lives with her 
children. Once she conceives, she drops out of the routine of visits 
a factor in restricting the number of children a woman may bear, 
and well recognized in Dahomey, at least, as a hygienic measure 
to resume it only when she has weaned her child. Naturally, not 
every household is polygynous, though the degree to which even 
those not among upper-class groups have more than one wife gives 
rise to a problem, as yet unsolved, of a possible differential in sex 
ratio. 

Among the Yoruba and Dahomeans, a chosen son succeeds to the 
wealth of his father, and here again, as in matters of personal jeal- 
ousies, conflict among wives in terms of jockeying for position to 
obtain advantageous consideration for a son makes for closeness of 
relationship between mother and children as against father and chil- 
dren. Among the Ashanti, wealth, like position, is inherited from a 
maternal uncle, hence this particular economic factor does not ob- 
tain in attitudes toward the father, but takes form in rivalries for 
the uncle's favor. But even where questions of succession do not 
enter, the very nature of the life in any polygynous household is 
such that it gives the psychological generalization validity. In Da- 
homey the explicit recognition of the difference is emphatic. Phrased 
in terms of inheritance, while there is always bitter dispute over the 
apportionment of the wealth of a father, such quarreling, it is as- 
serted, is unthinkable even when the property of a wealthy woman 
is to be distributed. "They are children of the same mother," would 
seem for these people, as for various New World Negro folk, to be 
an explanation that needs no clarification. 

The political organization of the tribes of our region has two dis- 
tinct aspects, historically of great importance. It is simplest to think 
of each of the three aggregates we are describing as political enti- 
ties, since in each we find the kings, courts, and subchiefs that mark 
them as units. Yet once we probe more deeply, it becomes apparent 
that for the people themselves the unit is smaller. Where, as among 
the Ashanti, in Dahomey, in Benin, and among the Oyo of Nigeria, 
powerful states were in existence during the time of the slave traffic, 
and until European conquest, they were actually but glosses on an 



66 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

underlying pattern of local autonomy and local loyalties. One of the 
most confusing aspects of the study of New World Negro origins 
based on the documents is a semantic one, which arises out of the 
difference between the conception held by the early writers of a 
king and a kingdom, and the ethnological reality of African concept. 
To this day, in a small village, one may be introduced to its "king" 
by a loyal follower of this petty, powerless potentate; and the village 
will likewise be designated a "kingdom." It is this, as much as any- 
thing else, that has misled students in attempting to understand the 
importance of the political units named in the slavers' accounts. If 
we take, for example, the oft-mentioned kingdom of Pawpaw the 
Popo of present-day Togoland we find it to be a village whose 
ruler commanded a "kingdom" of perhaps not more than 250 square 
miles at its greatest! Yet the identity of this "kingdom" has per- 
sisted under the French as it persisted in the face of Dahomean 
conquest. In exactly the same way we encounter the local loyalties 
of the inhabitants of Kumawo as against Mampong among the 
Ashanti of the Gold Coast, of Allada as against Abomey in the 
interior of Dahomey, of Ife as against Oyo among the Yoruba. 
These reflect identifications which, earlier, were to independent states 
whose inhabitants, after their absorption, never attained complete 
identification with the larger kingdom. From this it follows that 
the realms found in our area had to exercise control over the local 
chiefs ; while, in addition, in the interstices between their fluid 
boundaries local communities could, and did, persist without giving 
up their autonomies. 

The larger aggregates were no less significant political realities, 
nor did they function any the less efficiently because of these local 
loyalties, for their organization was remarkable in the light of con- 
ceptions generally held of the simple nature of the primitive political 
institutions. Given cultures without writing, and with local tradi- 
tions as strong as those existing in West Africa, the rulers accom- 
plished their ends with an expeditiousness that can only be realized 
by studying the writings of firsthand observers who visited the 
courts of the Ashanti, Dahomean, and Yoruban potentates. It is 
thus particularly ironical that, in this field, the simplicity and crudity 
of primitive life attributed to the African should have been permitted 
to loom as so important a trait of African culture. Stable dynasties 
were the rule, not the exception. Courts and related institutions en- 
sured the operation of orderly processes of law, while specialists in 
warfare saw to it that the territory of the ruler was not only de- 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 67 

fended in case of attack, but that he could extend his dominion as 
opportunity offered. 

In outlining the ordering of life in this area, there is no intention 
of picturing the West African as a kind of natural man living in a 
golden age. For if rulers were efficient, they were also exacting and 
ruthless; if they ensured orderly processes of law in the courts, 
they were also given to pecuniary persuasion that helped to dim the 
identity of law with justice. In terms of native standards, their way 
of life was lavish, and they did not scruple to tax heavily in order 
to maintain their status. In war, all males were liable to service, and 
any member of an enemy people who came within reach of their 
armies was fair game; men, women, and children were taken cap- 
tive, and the category of noncombatant was unknown. The institu- 
tion of polygyny reached fantastic proportions, for any woman who 
took the fancy of the ruler was liable to be claimed for his harem. 
In Dahomey, also, where centralization of authority and the des- 
potic exercise of power were most developed, battalions of women 
warriors were kept as nominal wives of the ruler, and hence un- 
approachable by another man. Many women were thus not permitted 
normal life, which from the point of view of population policy pre- 
vented the kingdom from reproducing the numbers needed to sup- 
port the expense, in human life and wealth, of its expansionist pol- 
icy, and eventually contributed to its downfall. 

Yet within these despotisms, life went on with a degree of regu- 
larity and security rarely envisaged when African polity is thought 
of. Authority was divided and redivided in terms of a precept under 
which the delegation of power was accompanied by sharply defined 
responsibility. The head of the family group, for example, was re- 
sponsible to the village chief or, in the more populous centers, to the 
head of his "ward" or "quarter." The local chief was responsible to 
a district chief, and he to the head of a larger area, who in turn had 
to account for the administration of his "province" to the king him- 
self or to one of the highest ministers of state. These chiefs sat with 
their elders and passed judgment when disputes arose among their 
people. Various devices were employed in the courts. In some cases 
testimony was taken, in others an ordeal was administered ; on occa- 
sion a chief might point the way to informal amicable compromise 
of a dispute. Appeals to a higher court might be taken by plaintiff 
or defendant. Such crimes as theft were rare, but when the culprit 
was apprehended his punishment was severe. 

The cost of these central governments was met by the taxes levied 
on the population at large. As reported for the Ashanti and for 



68 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Dahomey, tax programs were administered so as to exact from the 
people the greatest possible return. Taxes in Ashanti took two prin- 
cipal forms, death dues and levies on goods in transit. The Ashanti 
traded with the tribes to the north and with coastal folk to the 
south, and caravans going in either direction were liable for im- 
posts according to the nature of the goods they carried. Commod- 
ities which were seasonal might not be traded in by commoners until 
royalty had had the opportunity to profit by the high prices for the 
early crop. Ashanti death dues were indirect but heavy. A propor- 
tion of each estate became the property of the local ruler, to go to 
the next higher officer on the death of this official, until it finally 
reached the royal treasury. 

In Dahomey, indirection was the rule. Everything, including the 
population, was counted, and all commodities were taxed; but the 
people were not told when they were being counted, and taxable 
goods were often enumerated by subterfuge. In some of the methods 
the priests collaborated; in others, it was merely a matter of sub- 
tracting a balance on hand from an observed rate of production. As 
an indication of the ingenuousness of some of these indirections, 
the case of pepper, a prized commodity, may be indicated. To pro- 
hibit its general cultivation would have made for discontent, hence 
each man was permitted to raise enough plants to give him a small 
bag for his own use. But this was far from sufficient, and he had to 
buy the rest in the market, which was supplied by plantations in 
remote parts of the country. Even then, no direct tax was levied on 
the sale of pepper, but since all roads had tollgates at which por- 
ters' taxes were collected, and since all the pepper sold had to be 
brought from these plantations far removed from centers of popu- 
lation, the tolls paid by those who brought this commodity to market 
came to a substantial sum which was, in effect, a tax on pepper. 
Death dues in Dahomey were.more directly assessed than among the 
Ashanti. The movable goods of the dead were brought to the local 
administrative center; what was returned to the heir was given as a 
gracious gift of the king. That the portion of the estate returned 
never equaled what had gone into the royal enclosure was no excuse 
for the recipient to fail in a show of gratitude. 

One point must be emphasized concerning the political, social, and 
economic institutions of this part of West Africa which, it may 
again be recalled, was the heart of the slaving belt, and from which 
came the people who have left the most definite traces of their cul- 
ture in the New World. Despite wars that were at times of some 
magnitude and the serious inroads on population jnade by the slave 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 69 

trade, so well integrated were the cultures that little or no demoral- 
ization seems to have resulted. Today, in all this area, despite the 
fact of European control which has changed the role of the native 
ruler where it has not obliterated him; which, in the economic 
sphere, has been responsible for the introduction of stable currency 
and the raising of cash crops that make the native dependent on the 
vagaries of the world market ; and which, in the realm of social insti- 
tutions has subjected such a deep-lying pattern as that of the polygy- 
nous family to the impact of Christian conceptions of morality, these 
cultures continue with all vitality. Even in the field of technology, 
European influence has had but relatively slight effect. 

In coastal cities, it is true, certain indications of deculturization 
are to be perceived, especially in those centers where Africans from 
all parts of the coast have been indiscriminately thrown together. 
But once away from these seaports, the aboriginal culture is found 
functioning much as it must have functioned during the days before 
European control; and even in the coastal cities, far more of ab- 
original pattern persists than is apparent on first sight. This resilience, 
when manifested in those aspects of culture most susceptible to out- 
side influence, argues a high degree of tenaciousness for the cultures 
of this part of West Africa, and, if this is true, is a significant point 
for New World Negro studies. 



The religion of West Africa, as described by most of those who 
have written of it, is customarily encompassed in the word " fetish." 
Without defining the term, it is broadly held to refer to magical 
practices of some sort or other, which characteristically are repre- 
sented as so preoccupying the minds of the people that they live in 
a state of abject fear. How loosely the word has been used has been 
demonstrated by Rattray who, in one passage, indicts the practice 
as something "the indiscriminate use of which, I believe, has done 
infinite harm." In the specific case of the Ashanti, after showing 
how it is applicable only to charms of various sorts from any "cate- 
gory of non-human spirits," he continues : 

The native pastor and the European missionary alike found a word 
already in universal use, i.e., "fetish." They were possibly quite ready 
to welcome a designation which obviated any necessity for using a term 
which, even when written with a small initial letter, they considered 
much too good to apply to these "false gods" about whom we really still 



7O THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

know so little. Thus West Africa became "the Land of Fetish" and its 
religion "Fetishism." It would be as logical to speak in these terms of 
the religion of ancient Greece and Rome, pulling down from their high 
places the Olympian Deities and . . . Daemons (those which were the 
souls of men who lived in the Golden Age, and those which were never 
incarnate in human form, but were gods created by the Supreme God), 
and branding all indiscriminately as "fetishes," and the great thinkers of 
old, e.g., Plato and Socrates, as fetish worshippers. "I owe a cock to 
Aesculapius," said the latter almost with his last breath, and this pious 
injunction to his friend would be understood by every old Ashanti 
today. 24 

In so far as the complex concepts that mark the world view of the 
Ashanti, the Dahomeans, and the Yoruba are given systematic ex- 
pression, their religion may be analyzed into several major sub- 
divisions. As has been said, the ancestral cult sanctions and stabilizes 
kinship groupings, and there is reason to believe that in some cases 
these sanctions are to be traced even back to the major deities. For 
the Ashanti, Rattray was convinced that the ultimate force of the 
universe is lodged in the Great God Nyame, as befits another wide- 
spread conception of the African world view, in terms of which the 
universe, created by an all-powerful deity, has been so left to itself 
by the creator that he need not be worshiped. This is not the place 
to discuss whether this is in fact a valid concept of the African's 
belief; it may be indicated, however, that on the basis of field studies, 
of comparative analyses, and of the internal evidence in Rattray's 
own works there is reason to believe that this hypothesis will ulti- 
mately be revised. In Dahomey and among the Yoruba, in any event, 
the Great Gods are envisaged as a series of family groupings, who 
represent the forces of nature and function as agencies for the en- 
forcement of right living as conceived in terms of conformity to the 
patterns of morality and probity. That is, the gods, in Dahomey 
fully, and in a manner not entirely clear among the Yoruba, are 
grouped in pantheons, which follow the organization of the social 
units among men, each member having specific names, titles, func- 
tions, and worshipers. The cult groups are organized in honor of 
these deities, and the outstanding religious festivals are held for 
them. 

Closely associated with the gods, yet not included in the pan- 
theons, are certain other deities or forces. The cult of Fate, with its 
specialized divining technique, is particularly important in Da- 
homey and among the Yoruba. Here divination is principally based 
on a complex system of combinations and permutations arrived at 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 71 

by throwing a set number of seeds, and ties in with a whole body 
of mythology, interpreted by the diviner in the light of the partic- 
ular situation involved, and the relation to this body of lore of the 
particular tale that is called for by a given throw. This means that 
the training which the diviner must have is quite comparable to 
that of specialists in our own culture; the very period of study re- 
quired to become a diviner, between five and ten years, suggests an 
analogy with the doctorate of philosophy or medicine among our- 
selves. In the Gold Coast, where, as has been indicated, divination 
is less formal, training of this kind has not been recorded. 

In Dahomey, and among the Yoruba, the philosophical implica- 
tions of the divining system are impressive. Though the universe 
is held to be ruled by Fate and the destiny of each man worked out 
according to a predetermined scheme, there are ways of escape 
through invoking the good will of the god, the youngest child of 
the principal deity, who speaks the differing languages of the vari- 
ous divine " families," and as interpreter carries to them the mes- 
sages which ensure that a man experience whatever is in store for 
him. For this divinity, the trickster among the gods, can be induced 
to change the orders he carries, and does so on occasion; so that if 
an unpleasant fate is in store for an assiduous worshiper, it is be- 
lieved a simple matter for him to aid such a person by substituting 
a good for an evil destiny. Yet as a philosophical conception, this 
deification of Accident in a universe where predetermination is the 
rule is evidence of the sophistication of the prevailing world con- 
cept. For our special problem, it has a further significance. For it 
gives insight into deep-rooted patterns of thought under which a 
man refuses to accept any situation as inescapable, and thus reflects 
the diplomacy of the New World Negro in approaching human 
situations that is quite comparable to the manner in which the de- 
crees of Fate itself are in West Africa not accepted as final. 

Thus far we have seen that the West African's world view com- 
prehends Great Gods (who may be remote deified ancestors), other 
deities and forces, such as Fate and the divine trickster, and the 
ancestors who, in the other world, look after the concerns of their 
descendants moving on the plane of the living. Other phases of 
African religion will be considered shortly, but one aspect of this 
polytheistic system which likewise concerns the flexibility of Negro 
thought patterns must be discussed at this point. This has to do 
with the lack of interest the Africans manifest in proselytizing; 
which, in obverse, means that they have no zeal for their own gods 
so great as to exclude the acceptance of new deities. In this area 



72 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

they themselves recognize this fact, and will readily give an affirma- 
tive answer to direct questions concerning the tradition of accept- 
ing new gods or, more convincingly, will of their own volition 
designate certain gods as theirs and indicate other deities they wor- 
ship as adopted from outside the tribe. 

This tendency to adopt new gods is to be referred to the concep- 
tion of the deities as forces which function intimately in the daily 
life of the people. For a supernatural power, if he is to be accepted, 
must justify his existence (and merit the offerings of his wor- 
shipers) by accomplishing what his devotees ask of him. He need 
not be completely effective, for errors in cult practice can always be 
referred to in explaining why on occasion the prayers of worshipers 
are not fulfilled. But the gods must as a minimum care for the well- 
being of their people, and protect them not only from the forces of 
nature but also from human enemies. If one tribe is conquered by 
another, it therefore follows that the gods of the conquerors are 
more powerful than those of the conquered, and all considerations 
dictate that the deities of this folk be added to the less powerful gods 
already worshiped. Yet this is not the entire story, for an autoch- 
thonous god, if not propitiated, may still turn his considerable powers 
against the conquerors and do them harm. Therefore political fer- 
ment in West Africa was something correlated with religious fer- 
ment, and brought about an interchange of deities which tended to 
give to the tribes in this part of Africa the gods of their neighbors. 

The relevance of this for the situation to be met with in New 
World Negro cultures is apparent, for it sanctions a conception 
of the relationship between comparative power of gods and the 
strength of those who worship them. In -these terms, the importance 
of the European's God to people enslaved by those who worshiped 
Him must have been self-evident. That this was actually the case 
is to be seen in those parts of the New World where opportunities 
have presented themselves to retain African gods despite contact 
with Europeans; it will be seen how in such countries, especially 
where Catholicism prevails, the resulting syncretisms furnish one 
of the most arresting aspects of Negro religious life. In Protestant 
countries, especially the United States, where retention of the Afri- 
can gods was made difficult if not impossible, this attitude likewise 
goes far toward explaining the readiness of the Negroes to take 
over the conceptions of the universe held by the white man; and 
this points the way, also, to an understanding how, though forms 
of worship may have been accepted, not all of African world view 
or ritual practice was lost. 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 73 

Magic is extremely important in all our area; as has been seen, 
the ubiquity of the magic charm is such that the term "fetishism" 
has come to be applied to all West African religion, with its other 
resources ignored in favor of this most immediate and most ap- 
parent technique of coping with the supernatural. Magic is easy 
to understand; it is not foreign to European belief, and, in its Afri- 
can form, is so specific in its operation that it can be readily ex- 
plained by the native to an untrained inquirer. That its underlying 
philosophy is not so simple, and its relationship to the other forces 
of the universe still more obscure, is another matter. Its outward 
manifestations, to be encountered everywhere, are the charms people 
wear on arm or leg or about the neck, or that they suspend from 
their houses or insert in carved figurines or in the very shrines of 
their gods. The principle of "like to like" operates here as else- 
where, and the knowledge of how to manipulate the specific powers 
that reside in specific charms is widespread. There are, of course, 
specialists who deal in charms, but many laymen also know enough 
about these matters to make charms that are entirely adequate for 
a given purpose. 

As has been indicated, the outstanding trait of the charm is its 
specific reference. Characteristically, a charm has certain taboos 
which its owner or wearer must observe lest it lose its power, while 
its ownership entails certain definite prescribed actions which must 
be carried out if it is to retain its force. Charms help in meeting 
every situation in life and magic has its place even in the worship of 
the gods themselves. It is customary to classify magic as good and 
bad, but whatever dichotomy obtains is not the kind ordinarily 
thought of, for good and bad are conceived as but the two sides 
of a single shield. A charm, that is, which protects its owner can 
bring harm to an attacker; thus a charm to cure smallpox turned 
out to be a virulent instrument of black magic which could kill by 
giving a man the same disease. 

From this fact we gain further insight into African patterns of 
thought, for here we encounter a refinement of concept in terms of 
a hardheaded realism that is as far removed as can be from that 
simplicity held to mark the mentality of "savages." For it is real- 
istic, not naive, to refuse to evaluate life in those terms of good and 
bad, white and black, desirable and undesirable that the European 
is so prone to employ in responding to an equally deep-seated pat- 
tern of his own manner of thinking^The African, rather, recognizes 
the fact that in reality there is no absolute good and no absolute 
evil, but that nothing can exert an influence for good without at the 



74 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

very least causing inconvenience elsewhere; that nothing is so evil 
that it cannot be found to have worked benefit lo someone. The con- 
cepts of good and bad thus become relative, not absolute, and in 
understanding the magic of West Africa from which New World 
Negro magic has derived, we can the better understand why, of all 
Africanisms, this element of belief has most persisted in the mores 
of Negro life everywhere in the New World. 

What of the fear so often indicated as the outstanding aspect of 
the Negro's reaction to the universe especially his fear of the 
magic forces he must constantly contend against ? Such an assertion 
runs quite contrary to the findings of students who have succeeded 
in peering beneath the surface of West African life. Religion is 
close to the everyday experience of the West African. Supernatural 
forces are potentially dangerous, it is true, but so are wild animals 
or illness. An analogy can be drawn in terms of our own reaction 
to electricity and automobiles. For those who work with either or 
benefit from the use of either, the potential dangers of shock or 
of accident are considerable. Yet, if we are normal, we do not set 
up phobias which preoccupy our waking moments and torment our 
sleep with nightmares concerning electricity and automobiles. For 
if these are dangerous, they are also helpful; if they can harm us 
when not handled properly, their proper use is beneficial. So with 
the West African's gods, and so with his magic. What can poten- 
tially harm, if not handled properly, can also be of the greatest aid; 
and just as we have specialists who see to it that our electrical de- 
vices are properly insulated and our automobiles are in proper work- 
ing order, so in West Africa priests and diviners and dealers in 
magic charms are likewise on hand to exercise the proper controls. 

Religion, in short, is important in the life of West Africa because 
it is an intimate part of that life. If it is difficult for us to compre- 
hend such a point of view, this merely means that the institution in 
our culture which we label by the term "religion" does not, in the 
case of vast numbers of our people, enter into considerations of 
everyday living. It thus follows that what we designate by the term 
is not the same reality as what is similarly designated in the case of 
these folk. Just because the supernatural does function intimately in 
the daily life of West Africa, because the powers of the universe are 
of passionate interest to these West Africans, it does not follow 
that they have no time for other thoughts or that their emotional 
life is centered about fear of a universe which is held by outsiders 
to be far more hostile to them than they themselves regard it. 

As might be expected among people whose world view is so com- 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 75 

plex, a rich mythology is encountered. These myths, however, are 
only one part of the literary repertory of the folk living in this core 
of the slaving belt, since "historical" tales, stories for children, and 
other types are likewise of great number. The popularity of the 
Uncle Remus stories in this country, and the circulation of Joel 
Chandler Harris's volumes of Negro tales 25 over the entire world, 
have caused these American Negro stories to be regarded as the 
characteristic form of African folk tales. In Africa, however, even 
where animal tales are told, they are neither na'ive nor necessarily 
for children. Many elements of the Uncle Remus stories are encoun- 
tered in the sacred myths, and these elements, even where the animal 
personnel has been retained, are handled in a subtle and sophisticated 
manner. They often exhibit a double-entendre that permits them to 
be employed as moralizing tales for children or as stories enjoyed 
by adults for their obscenity. In addition to the tales are numerous 
proverbs and riddles, the former in particular being used at every 
possible opportunity to make a point in an argument, or to docu- 
ment an assertion, or to drive home an admonition. Poetry is like- 
wise not lacking, though poetic quality derives principally from a 
rich imagery; the association of poetry with song, moreover, is so 
intimate that it is not found as an independent form. 

Aesthetic expression is profuse in other fields. The outstanding 
musical form of these folk is the song, though musical instruments 
are found the ubiquitous drum in its many forms, the gong, rat- 
tles, and types of zithers and flutes. The musical bow, the sanza, or 
"African piano," and other instruments that have a distribution 
elsewhere on the continent are absent from the part of the west coast 
with which we are at present concerned. Though only one collection 
of songs of any size has been made in this region, 26 the four hun- 
dred and more recordings not only indicate that many different 
kinds of songs are to be encountered, but that an equally wide range 
of singing styles exists. If it does nothing else, indeed, this collec- 
tion shows the impossibility of comprehending "African" music 
under a single rubric or even of considering the songs of one tribal 
group as constituting a single describable type. The significance of 
this fact for the problem of New World Negro music will be probed 
later in our discussion ; here it is sufficient to indicate the complexity 
of West African musical forms with respect to scale, rhythm, and 
general organization, and to mention the many varieties of songs 
ranging from lullabies through work songs, and songs of derision, 
and social dance songs, to sacred melodies as varied as are the 
individual deities to whom they are directed that are found not 



76 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

alone in this region as a whole, but in the musical resources of any 
one of its tribal units. 

Nor is it possible here to do more than make mention of the 
dance, also a fundamental element in aesthetic expression every- 
where in Africa. Dancing takes multitudinous forms, and all who 
have had firsthand contact with the area of our special interest speak 
of the many varieties of dances found there. These may be ritual or 
recreational, religious or secular, fixed or improvised, and the dance 
itself has in characteristic form carried over into the New World 
to a greater degree than almost any other trait of African culture. 
To attempt verbal descriptions of dance types requires a technique 
as yet scarcely developed; 27 since analysis must also await the 
utilization of motion pictures as an aid to the study of these special 
aspects of motor behavior, we can here but record the fact of its 
prominence in the culture, and its pervasiveness in the life of the 
people. 

Great competence in a variety of media characterizes the graphic 
and plastic arts. Wood carving is the best known of African arts, 
though among the Ashanti other techniques take prior rank. These 
people are supremely competent weavers (as is to be seen in the dis- 
cussion of their silk and cotton cloth designs by Rattray 28 ), and 
they are also famous for the metal gold weights they cast from 
bronze, accurate to the fraction of an ounce and fashioned in a 
wide range of representative and geometric figures. In Dahomey, 
the high degree of economic specialization permits art to find ex- 
pression in numerous forms. Wood carving, not as well known as it 
deserves among devotees of what, in art circles, is called "African 
sculpture/ 1 reaches a high degree of perfection. Stylistically, these 
carvings are especially interesting because of strength of line and 
balanced proportions which characterize the statuettes found in 
shrines of the gods or otherwise employed in the cult life of these 
people. Brass castings are made by a family guild which is differ- 
entiated from other metalworkers. These figurines, resembling our 
own art objects in that they have nonutilitarian value after a fashion 
not often encountered among primitive peoples, are prized essentially 
for the aesthetic pleasure they give and as a mark of leisure-class 
status, since only the wealthy can today afford them and since, in 
the days of Dahomean autonomy, to own them was a prerogative 
of royalty. Clothworkers make distinctive appliqued hangings which, 
in the manner of the brass figures, are valued for their beauty alone. 

The wood carvings of the Yoruba are known much more widely, 
and the Yoruban area has long been recognized as one of the prin- 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 77 

cipal centers of this form. Not only does one encounter single three- 
dimensional figures of considerable size, but also "masks," as the 
representations of human and other heads worn atop the heads of 
dancers are termed, bas-relief carving on doors, houseposts with 
human and animal forms superimposed one on the other, objects 
used in the Fate cult, and the like. In addition, however, these peo- 
ple, like the Dahomeans, do ironwork of distinction, weave cloth of 
cotton and raffia, and produce minor art forms in basketry, pottery, 
and other media. 



A final point on the African background must be considered at 
this time. This concerns the extent to which the cultures that have 
been described those, that is, of this focal area of slaving, which 
research has empirically demonstrated to have set the pattern fol- 
lowed by survivals of African custom in New World Negro life 
differ from or are similar to the cultures of those other portions of 
West Africa which also exported large numbers of Negroes to the 
United States, the Caribbean, and South America. 

That our information on the peoples of the slaving belt outside 
the area with which we have thus far been dealing is not as exten- 
sive as that which we have to draw on from within the area is quite 
true, though this does not mean that we are by any means exclu- 
sively left with gleanings from the writings of those who, as mis- 
sionaries or government officials or travelers or traders, had other 
than scientific concerns. The scientific periodical literature makes 
numerous contributions of high competence available. 29 Only here 
as yet can we find reports of the recent field work among the Nupe 
of northern Nigeria by Nadel, 30 among the Tallensi of the Gold 
Coast by Fortes, 31 among the Dogon of the French Sudan by the 
various field parties of the Musee de rHomme, 82 among the Niger 
Delta folk by Forde and Harris, 33 or, similarly, the materials gath- 
ered by those who have studied various Congo tribes. 34 Some mono- 
graphic literature is available. The work of the French, especially 
of Labouret, on the tribes of Senegal and the interior of French 
West Africa, 35 of Thomas and Westermann, 36 and of earlier Ger- 
man missionaries 37 on the folk of the Liberia and Sierra Leone, and 
of Tauxier on the Ivory Coast tribes (of whom the Agni are of 
especial importance) 38 all fall in this category. On the eastern side 
of the " focal" region, the works of Meek on the Ibo as well as on 
various folk of the Nigerian hinterland 89 are to be remarked, to- 



78 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

gether with the volumes by Talbot, both those derived from the 
Nigerian Census of 1920 on the peoples of the forested coastal belt 
and the descriptions more specifically directed toward the cultures of 
the Niger Delta region. 40 The earlier reports of Thomas, dealing 
with the same area, 41 and Mansf eld's account of the tribes of the 
Cross River region 42 give further resources. Such German works as 
those of Tessmann 43 and other German writers on the Cameroons 
folk can be consulted with profit in order to fill out the picture. 

Deficiencies are greatest for Congo ethnography. In a general 
way, the outlines of Congo custom are known, but the poor quality 
of the reporting, especially the fact that except perhaps for the 
studies published by Torday and Joyce 44 on the Kasai river tribes 
or by Hambly on the Ovimbundu 45 there are no field data gathered 
purely for scientific ends, places great difficulties in our way when 
we search for detail. A long series of volumes was published some 
years ago in Brussels as a part of an ambitious plan, devised by Cyr. 
van Overbergh, 46 whereby political officers made returns on the basis 
of a rigid outline, thus allowing possible direct comparisons between 
the peoples reported on. Questionnaire ethnography of this type is, 
however, unacceptable in terms of modern ethnographic method. 
Not only are the facts gathered by untrained observers, but the 
procedure rules out any consideration of the place of the individual 
in his culture, and reduces civilizations to systems of institutions 
that give no sense of the variation about these cultural norms inevi- 
tably encountered in the life of any group. The writings of Weeks, 
an English missionary, can be used, but all caution must be allowed 
for obvious bias. 47 Moreover, like works by administrators inter- 
ested in the natives, 48 they handicap the student because the data 
are not presented in terms of the rubrics generally accepted as repre- 
senting the aspects of culture to be treated in any systematic 
description. 

Nonetheless, the available resources are quite sufficient to estab- 
lish the two major hypotheses on which the position taken in our 
discussion is based. In the first place, the data demonstrate the valid- 
ity of our reasoning as to the relatively greater effectiveness of the 
"focal" cultures as against these "outlying** ones in establishing the 
patterns of New World Negro behavior. And they also demonstrate 
a sufficient degree of similarity in the cultures of the entire area so 
that a slave from any part of it would find little difficulty in adapt- 
ing himself to whatever specific forms of African behavior he might 
encounter in the New World. 

Language offers an excellent opportunity to document this latter 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 79 

point, which, as will become apparent in succeeding chapters, is the 
crux of the matter. It will be remembered that general opinion holds 
the destruction of aboriginal linguistic tradition to have begun as 
soon as the slaves arrived in the New World. Separated from fellow 
tribesmen on the plantations as a matter of policy, the slave, it is 
argued, had no means of communication with his fellows except in 
the language of the masters, and hence no linguistic vehicle was at 
hand to establish in the New World customs known in the Old. 
With this hypothesis, which emphasizes the linguistic diversity of 
Africa, in mind, we may consider the linguistic situation as it actu- 
ally exists. The best summary is a short work published in 1930, 
the text of a series of lectures delivered to British Colonial Office 
probationers at Oxford, Cambridge, and London universities. 49 A 
simple introduction to the outlines of the languages with which these 
officials must cope with in Africa, it is nontechnical and .succinct. 
The standing of its author, a distinguished scholar in the field, guar- 
antees its authority, while the fact that it was written with no 
thought of the New World Negro makes its testimony as regards 
findings in the Western Hemisphere the more impressive. 

The discussion opens with a statement concerning the principal 
types of African languages: 

There are, we may say, three families of languages indigenous to 
Africa. . . . These are, the Sudanic, Bantu, and Hamitic. . . . The 
Sudanlc Languages . . . constitute an organic family, extending in an 
irregular zone across Africa, from Cape Verde to the Highlands of 
Abyssinia. . . . Some typical Sudanic languages are : Twi, Ewe, Yoruba, 
in West Africa; . . . The name Bantu was adopted ... to denote 
those languages of South and Central Africa which had been discovered 
to resemble one another so closely in structure as to constitute a singu- 
larly homogeneous family. . . . Among the most important Bantu lan- 
guages are . . . Kongo/' 

From this it would seem that the apparent linguistic differences 
found between the tribes of the slaving area are in reality but local 
variations of a deeper-lying structural similarity. Such mutual unin- 
telligibility as existed is thus to be regarded as irrelevant to the' basic 
patterns which, under contact, afforded a grammatical matrix to 
facilitate communication. 

It is to be noted that the "typical" Sudanic forms of West Africa 
mentioned in this citation Twi, the language of the Ashanti-Fanti 
people of the Gold Coast, Ewe, the name given the Togoland lan- 
guages closely related in form and even in vocabulary to Fon, the 
speech of Dahomey, and Yoruba are the principal linguistic stocks 



8o THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

of our "focal" area. This means that the slaves who came from out- 
side this focus spoke tongues related to those found at the center of 
slaving operations. Among the more important of these found in 
regions to the west of the "core" are the languages of the Gambia 
and Senegal (Wolof or Jolof), Sierra Leone (Temne and Mende), 
and the middle Sudan (Mandingo) ; to the east are Ibo, Nupe, and 
Efik. To the north of the forested coastal belt Sudanic dialects also 
are spoken Mossi, Jukun, and Kanuri among others. 51 

The Congo tribes are all Bantu speaking, and though there are 
considerable differences between the Sudanic and Bantu stocks, re- 
semblances also exist which, under mutual contact with Indo-Euro- 
pean tongues, would loom large. The system of classifying forms 
which is the primary mark of the Bantu languages could not, in any 
case, be carried over into Indo-European speech, but other traits, 
such as the absence of sex gender, and those "vocal images/' "ono- 
matopoetic words," and "descriptive adverbs/' noted as of equal 
importance in the Sudanic and Bantu languages 52 could readily be 
employed by English-, French-, Spanish-, and Portuguese-speaking 
New World Negroes, whatever their African linguistic background. 

We need not here document reservations to the conclusions 
reached by students of Negro speech as concerns African survivals 
in the United States. 53 Let us but point out how the problem of 
African survivals is affected by the existence of similarities and 
differences in underlying pattern that characterize the tribes in all 
the region where important slaving operations were carried on. 
Naturally, if each tribelet was linguistically quite independent, this 
would have made communication in the New World a matter of 
the utmost difficulty for the slaves, who would have been far more 
dependent than otherwise on the entirely new language that had to 
be learned. But if mutually unintelligible dialects were not under- 
standable because of differences in vocabulary rather than in con- 
struction, mutual understanding after a relatively short period of 
contact would be a simple matter. Analyses of various New World 
Negro forms of speech, as well as of West African and Congo 
"pidgin" dialects, show how importantly this common structural 
base functioned. For whether Negro speech employs English or 
French or Spanish or Portuguese vocabulary, the identical construc- 
tions found over all the New World can only be regarded as a re- 
flection of the underlying similarities in grammar and idiom, which, 
in turn, are common to the West African Sudanese tongues. And 
this, again, made it possible for men and women of different tribes 
to communicate with one another as soon as they had learned a 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 81 

modicum of the master's language, with a facility never recognized 
in the many discussions of the loss of African background that have 
been cited in the preceding pages. 

If one may compare similarities in the grammar of language over 
the entire West African region with what may be termed the gram- 
mar of culture, one finds, a similar situation. One indication of this 
is the tendency of all students to consider the west coast a unit, and 
of some to group it with the Congo in comparing its cultures with 
those of the north or east or southwestern parts of the African con- 
tinent. 54 As in all culture-area analyses, a classification of this type 
entails an evaluation of the degree of differences to be recognized 
as significant. Thus, as has been said, certain very general aspects 
of the cultures of Europe, Asia and Africa are held in common in 
an Old World cultural province. In like manner, certain traits, such 
as the counting of descent in a unilateral line with strong emotional 
attachment to the families of both parents or the fact that ancestors 
function importantly among the supernatural forces of the universe, 
are found over most of the continent. Beyond this, however, are 
those characteristics which mark off the cultures of one part of the 
continent from those of other areas, while in each area local varia- 
tions on the central themes are found, the local cultures becoming 
more and more specialized until one reaches the ultimate fact of 
individual variation in behavior. 

What, then, are the characteristics of this West African-Congo 
area ? To what extent do they agree with those given in the outline 
of the cultures found in the focal area of slaving? In all West 
Africa south of the Sahara, and in the Congo, agriculture is the 
mainstay of the productive economy, though in the northern savanna 
country herding is also important. In all the area gardening is done 
with the hoe, the heavy agricultural work being performed by the 
men, the crops being tended by the women. Cooperative labor is 
everywhere used to break the soil. Ownership of land is regulated 
by the larger relationship groups, but tenure during use is assured 
the occupant of a given plot of ground. In addition to the basic agri- 
cultural organizations are various craft groupings, which reflect a 
division of labor that makes for specialization in various callings 
ironworkers, cloth weavers, wood carvers, traders, dealers in objects 
of supernatural moment, potters, basketmakers. These specialists 
commonly acknowledge affiliation to family guilds, which are ever 
present, though in some of the communities they are less closely or- 
ganized than in others. 

Social organization is unilineal and patrilocal. Polygyny exists 



82 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

everywhere in the area, and though the line of descent varies, the 
closeness of personal ties with the parent to whom one is "unre- 
lated" is in accord with African custom elsewhere. It is becoming 
increasingly evident that division of social units based on kinship in 
terms of immediate family, extended family, and sib is widespread 
over the African continent ; it is similarly found in those parts with 
which we are now concerned. In all West Africa, also, the rule of 
the elders within the larger family is paramount. Their power is 
based on the closeness of their relationship to the ancestors, who 
give them their authority. The rule of discipline enforced within the 
family as previously described likewise holds, which accounts for the 
efficiency with which these groupings exercise economic and political 
controls. Whether or not sibs are totemic in the entire area is for 
future research to decide. The question is open as concerns the 
western part of the slaving belt; in the central portion the incidence 
is varied ; in eastern Nigeria it is present in some tribes and absent 
in others, and there is evidence that this is also the case in the 
Cameroons and the Congo. 

Variation in nonrelationship groupings is considerable. "Secret 
societies" among the Yoruba and Dahomeans have proved on closer 
investigation to be either religious cult organizations or family ag- 
gregates. Secret societies seem to be lacking in any form among the 
Ashanti-Fanti peoples; in all this central portion of the slaving 
region "associations" thus take the form of work groups, insurance 
societies, mutual-aid organizations, and the like. Secret societies do 
flourish at both ends of the belt, however. The Leopard Societies of 
the Congo, various Ibo and Ibibio secret organizations, the Poro 
and Sande of Liberia and Sierra Leone suggest that similar societies, 
exercising political power as well as enforcing conformity to the 
mores by extra-legal methods, may have existed in all the western 
part of the continent before the dynastic controls of the more closely 
organized political entities were established. Such organizations may 
today be regarded as merely specialized manifestations of the under- 
lying pattern of directed activity, which makes for the presence of 
many kinds of associations, having secret or known membership, in 
all parts of the area. 

Though everywhere in the region of slaving operations the local 
unit is dominant and loyalties are toward such units, large variation 
is found in political organization. The power of the various king- 
doms which existed rested always in their ability to mobilize the 
support of the local chieftains who, by negotiation or conquest, had 
been brought under control of the central power. In the north- 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 83 

western portion of the slaving belt, among the Bambara and inland 
among the Wolof, kingdoms of some size had long been established 
when the period of slaving began, while farther to the east the Fulani 
kingdom was likewise of impressive dimensions. In Sierra Leone, 
Mandingo control has long been known, but in the rest of this terri- 
tory and in Liberia and the Ivory Coast small autonomous units 
were the rule. Between the kingdoms of Ashanti and Dahomey nu- 
merous minute independent entities existed, while the Yoruba, who 
constitute a cultural unit, were divided into at least ten political 
subdivisions. 

As we move eastward, the size of these units becomes smaller, so 
that as the Niger is reached a cluster of villages becomes the char- 
acteristic self-governing form. In this region Benin alone, noted for 
its priest-kings, constitutes the exception to this rule. Large king- 
doms were not numerous in the Congo, though tightly knit political 
structures existed everywhere. The kingdom of Kongo, which was 
functioning when the Portuguese made their appearance in the fif- 
teenth century and of which we know much through the writings of 
early travelers, was never of impressive size. Inland, the Bushongo 
and Lunda dynasties are to be cited; but again, the pattern of the 
local unit as the one on which all larger political structures were 
reared is apparent in their organization. 

Yet whatever the size of the unit, in all this vast area the people 
looked to their "king" for direction, and everywhere his rule, and 
the counsel of his elders, assured the reign of law. The "legal genius 
of the African," so often mentioned in works dealing with the con- 
tinent and almost entirely disregarded by students in the United 
States who have attempted to describe African societies is nowhere 
more manifest than in the universality of the institution of courts 
and the manner in which native courts functioned. Indeed, it is diffi- 
cult to find such a congeries of societies anywhere in the world, 
literate or not, who are farther removed from the fang-and-claw 
concept of savage justice than those of the slaving area of Africa. 

The general outline of religious life that has been given for the 
core of our area in the main applies to the other cultures of the total 
region. Everywhere some conception of the universe as ruled by 
Great Gods, customarily associated with the forces of nature, is 
found. The pervasiveness of divination would indicate a world view 
that implies beings whose decisions can be ascertained, thus making 
it possible to carry on activities in harmony with their desires by 
proper manipulation of the accepted tribal techniques of foretelling 
the future. Everywhere the ancestors are sacred. They may, in some 



84 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

regions, be regarded as the real owners of the land; they may be 
looked to as the possessors of such peculiar powers or abilities as 
families and sibs may be endowed with. But they are always the 
stabilizing force in the organization of society and are unfailingly 
consulted before important decisions are reached. They are, in short, 
respected and worshiped as those who, constituting the interested 
intermediaries between this world and the next, can most affect the 
fortunes of their descendants. Magic is likewise universal in the area. 
Charms themselves are as different as the varied situations of life, 
but the use of certain materials in their manufacture, such as pointed 
objects, or colored cloth, or white clay, or spines and strong hairs, 
is encountered over all the region. 

Cult practices differ greatly. They vary from organized groups of 
worshipers with well-executed rituals by disciplined corps of singers 
and dancers in the larger population aggregates of the Gold Coast, 
Dahomey, Benin, and among the Yoruba to simple family rituals 
for gods and ancestors which, in the smaller communities, comprise 
almost the only type of ceremonials. The names of deities are as 
numerous as the localities with which they are identified ; it is from 
this fact that the most reliable testimony of the origin of New 
World Negro groups derives. For despite the multitude of designa- 
tions for the great numbers of gods that must have been worshiped 
by the varied tribes from which came the slave population, few 
deities except those from the central region have present-day devo- 
tees on this side of the Atlantic. Zambi, Simbi, Bumba, Lemba, 
who are worshiped in the Congo, are exceptions to this rule, but 
there are few others. It is possible that greater knowledge of the 
deities of other portions of the slaving belt will reveal survivals 
hitherto unrecognized; yet we know enough about the gods of peo- 
ples outside this "core" to be struck by the paucity of correspond- 
ences to them found in the New World, especially when this is 
compared to the wealth of carry-overs of Ashanti, Dahomean, and 
Yoruban supernatural beings. 

The aesthetic aspects of life in the slaving region present an 
underlying unity, whatever the variations of local styles. Song and 
dance are everywhere found to play significant and similar roles in 
the daily round. The rattle, the drums, and the gong are always 
found in the battery of instruments employed, though in the Congo 
the sanza, the xylophone, and elsewhere certain string devices sup- 
plement the percussion units. Rhythm is invariably complex, and the 
convention of alternation of leader and chorus in singing likewise 
the rule. The more technical musicological problems in the study of 



THE AFRICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE 85 

similarities and differences over the area cannot be discussed for lack 
of data. Yet, again, enough is known to justify the conclusion that 
in musical style and rhythmic treatment to say nothing of the 
sociological problem of the cultural setting of the music funda- 
mental structure is everywhere similar. 

Over the entire area the graphic and plastic arts are of great 
importance. Indeed, the region of slaving includes most of those 
parts of the continent that have become famous for their art. The 
importance and quality of wood carving in the Congo, the Cam- 
eroons, eastern and western Nigeria, among the tribes living north 
of the coastal forested belt, the Ivory Coast, and Liberia are too well 
known to require more than mention here. The development of art 
forms in other media is similarly important, though less well known ; 
along the vast stretch from the Gambia to the Congo one finds the 
techniques of iron working, cloth weaving, basketry, bead work, 
silver- and goldsmithing, and calabash decorating employed in the 
production of beautiful objects. 

The aesthetic drive is equally manifested in the literary field, 
though in folklore, as in religion, the closeness of these interests to 
the concerns of everyday life makes their aesthetic aspects appreci- 
able only on close acquaintance. Tales, proverbs, and riddles are the 
three major forms of this art and they function constantly and 
variously as educational devices, as a means of amusement, to make 
a case in court, to point a conversation, as sanctions for social insti- 
tutions and world view, and as integral elements in funeral rites. 
Widespread are both animal stories and tales involving human and 
supernatural characters, and the basic unity in this as in other art 
forms is amply apparent even though only a relatively small sam- 
pling of the artistic resources of this type are available for the entire 
region. 

These points, which suggest the underlying similarities between 
the cultures of the area where slaving was carried on, could be docu- 
mented almost indefinitely. From the point of view of our present 
interest, the greater store of data they represent proves that emphasis 
on tribal differences in culture has been placed by those who have 
written of the cultural background of Negroes living in the United 
States with as little justification as the presumed linguistic dissimi- 
larities have been emphasized. 



Chapter IV 

ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO 
SLAVE STATUS 



The story of slavery is in need of much revision, for there is great 
variation of fact about the patterned concept of the trade and the 
fate of those brought to the plantations. Historical truth, as evi- 
denced in contemporary accounts, demands a realization that all 
types of individuals slaves, captains of slaving vessels, overseers, 
and plantation owners were concerned in this chapter of our past, 
and that these individual differences bulked large in determining the 
total situation. 

To reevaluate the evidence will require the work of specialists for 
some time to come ; here we are only concerned with general outlines 
in so far as the picture has significance for the past of the New 
World Negro. As has been indicated, the current point of view, 
which emphasizes the acquiescence of the Negro to slavery, is an 
integral part of the "mythology" sketched in our opening pages. As 
such, it reinforces certain attitudes toward the Negro and is thus of 
practical as well as scientific importance, the latter deriving prin- 
cipally from the fact that this phase of the Negro past aids in under- 
standing the rate and the nature of the acculturative process prior 
to the abolition of slavery. Slaves who acquiesced in their status 
would be more prone to accept the culture of their masters than those 
who rebelled; hence, if the slaves were restless, as recent studies 
have indicated, and if this restlessness caused revolt to be endemic 
in the New World, then the reluctance to accept slave status might 
also have encouraged the slaves to retain what they could of African 
custom to a greater extent than would otherwise have been the case. 

Other aspects of this historical problem also call for study. In the 
analysis of a given acculturative process, it is important to know as 
much as possible of the actual precontact status of the individuals 
party to it. For though acculturation is essentially an attempt to 
understand the mechanisms and results of contact between the car- 

86 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 87 

riers of differing cultures which is to say, between manifestations 
^of two different configurations of institutionalized modes of be- 
havior it must always be borne in mind that the carriers themselves 
are the crucial elements. In the "Memorandum for the Study of 
Acculturation" already referred to, one of the entries under the 
heading "Psychological mechanisms of selection and integration of 
traits under acculturation," is "differential selection and acceptance 
of traits in accordance with sex lines, differing social strata, differ- 
ing types of belief, and occupation." 1 This means that the individual 
backgrounds of those party to the contact must be understood as 
completely as possible in terms of their particular group mores and 
interests, social status, class affiliations, and the like. In the case of 
those who were party to the contacts between Negroes and whites 
in the New World, this task is beset with enormous difficulties, yet 
a determined and systematic attack on the problem has already 
yielded some results that are of use in its analysis. 



It needs no great probing of the literature of slaving to become 
aware that, from the beginning, vast numbers of Negroes refused to 
accept the slave status without a struggle. Contemporary accounts 
are so filled with stories of uprisings and other modes of revolt, 
cases of voluntary starvation and more direct forms of suicide, that 
it is surprising that the conception of the compliant African ever 
developed. A committee of the House of Commons investigated the 
slave trade in 1/90 and 1791, and its report is replete with testimony 
concerning the difficulties caused the traders by the Negroes. Ships 
had to be "fitted up with a view to prevent slaves jumping over- 
board"; slaves on occasion would refuse "sustenance, with a design 
to starve themselves"; at times they also refused "to take medicines 
when sick, because they wished to die." The persistent attempts of 
certain slaves at suicide are in themselves eloquent of their grim 
determination. Thus one man, sold with his family on a false accusa- 
tion of witchcraft, attempted to cut his throat. The wound was sewed 
by the ship's surgeon, whereupon the man tore out the sutures dur- 
ing the night, using his fingernails since nothing else was at hand. 
Ten days later he finally died of starvation, after what would today 
be termed a hunger strike. Again, the report tells of a woman who, 
rescued after an attempt to drown herself, was chained to the mast 
for four days; she jumped into the water as soon as she was re- 



88 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

leased, "was again taken up, and expired under the floggings given 
her in consequence/' 2 A passage written at about the same time by 
Falconbridge, out of his firsthand experience with the trade, may 
also be quoted here : 

As very few of the negroes can so far brook the loss of their liberty, 
and the hardships they endure, as to bear them with any degree of 
patience, they are ever upon the watch to take advantage of the least 
negligence in their oppressors. Insurrections are frequently the conse- 
quence ; which are seldom suppressed without much bloodshed. Some- 
times these are successful, and the whole ship's company is cut off. They 
are likewise always ready to seize every opportunity for committing some 
act of desperation to free themselves from their miserable state ; and 
notwithstanding the restraints under which they are laid, they often 
succeed. 3 

It may be argued that the use of such sources must allow for 
abolitionist bias. Yet other materials, written with no political pur- 
pose in mind or even presented by supporters of the slave regime, 
make such an argument less impressive than it would otherwise be. 
The work by Captain Snelgrave, who was a believer in slavery, tells 
tales of slave revolt experienced by himself or witnessed at first hand 
that carry conviction even beyond the dramatic quality of the narra- 
tive. 4 Phillips, who was but little concerned with Negro reactions, so 
completely accepts the danger of revolt during the voyage as a fact 
that he merely remarks in passing, when describing the trade, "the 
negro men were usually kept shackled for the first part of the passage 
until the chances of mutiny and return to Africa dwindled and the 
captain's fears gave place to confidence." 5 A recent systematic analy- 
sis of the materials by Wish illuminates the refusal of the slaves, 
from the very inception of their captivity in Africa, to accept their 
status as bondsmen. This is demonstrated, for one thing, in the 
slave revolts on shipboard enumerated by him : 6 

Number of Number of 

Year revolts Year revolts 

1699 1733 i 

1700 1735 i 

1703 1737 i 

1704 1747 i 
1717 1750 3 

1721 2 1754 I 

1722 I 1759 i 

1730 2 1761 2 

1731 3 1764 4 

1732 I 1765 2 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 89 

Number of 
revolts 





Number of 




Year 


revolts 


Year 


1773 


I 


1797 


1776 


3 


1799 


1785 


2 


1804 


1787 


I 


1807 


1789 


I 


1808 



1793 2 1829 I 

1795 * 1839 I 

1796 I 1845 I 

On the basis of these findings, obtained from published materials, 
not derived from an analysis of archival data, and dealing almost 
entirely with revolts on British ships, there is little reason to doubt 
that more extensive research would greatly expand the list. This is 
also indicated by the little-known fact, brought out by Wish, that 
advance precautions of a pecuniary nature were taken by owners of 
slaving vessels against revolt : 

There is evidence of a special form of insurance to cover losses arising 
specifically from insurrections. An insurance statement of 17/6 from 
Rhode Island, for example, has this item : "Wresk of Mortality and 
Insurrection of 220 slaves, Value 9000 Ste'g at 5 per cent is Pr 
Month 37, i os." A Captain's statement of August n, 17/4, contains 
a request for insurrection insurance. In a Negro mutiny case of May 3, 
1785, the court awarded payment in conformance with a policy pro- 
vision for insurrection insurance. Sometimes the captain of a slaver 
would throw sick Negroes overboard to profit by the insurance payments 
given in such contingencies. 7 



Slave protest on the west coast of Africa and on shipboard is 
thus seen to have been regarded as a commonplace. In analyzing the 
hypothesis of Negro subservience to slavery, however, the possi- 
bility must next be considered that this characteristic developed later 
when, in the New World, having to cope with the stern controls and 
continued vigilance of the masters, and in enforced submission to 
the powers of European culture, Negroes became resigned to their 
fate and made the best of whatever life might hold for them. 'The 
available data do not make this assumption any more persuasive 
than that point of view which holds for Negro acquiescence to slavery 
on first contact with Europeans in Africa. In the face of materials 
from all over the New World showing what determined resistance 
was offered by the slaves to their status when even the slightest 



90 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

opportunity afforded, it is difficult to understand how the Negro 
obtained any reputation for docility. This may, of course, be due in 
part to the outer aspects of accommodation whereby, following the 
patterned flexibility of African tradition, the slave told his master 
what he believed his master desired, and for the rest kept his counsel 
and bided his time until he could make good an effective protest, or 
escape. 

It is possible, also, that the stereotype of the pliant Negro has 
derived from the oft-repeated story which contrasts him to the In- 
dian, who is held to have died rather than suffer enslavement. But 
this assertion also needs rein vest igation, since at the present state of 
our knowledge there seems some reason to believe that it was more 
than his wounded pride or a broken heart that carried off the en- 
slaved Indian. In Haiti, for example, the Negroes were imported 
because work in the mines had almost exterminated the Indians, as 
it likewise did the Negroes who were imported for this purpose ; and 
it was the discovery that the cultivation of sugar was more profitable 
than gold mining that allowed the Negroes to do the agricultural 
labor that was far more conducive to survival. In the United States, 
again, it would seem that Indians had a lower resistance to bacterial 
diseases borne by Europeans than did Negroes, which permitted the 
sturdier Negroes to survive where the Indians died off. It is also 
entirely possible that the Indians were regarded as unsatisfactory 
slaves because their simpler aboriginal economic system gave less 
preparation for the disciplined regime of the plantation than did the 
African background. 8 

Whatever may have been the case as concerns the Indians, there 
was no lack of protest in the New World by Negro slaves. It began 
at the very earliest period of enslavement : 

... it is not generally known how early in the history of Negro slaving 
revolts did occur. The Negro slave-trade began with shipments of slaves 
to Haiti in 1510; the first slave uprising in Haiti, in 1522, thus took 
place only twelve years after the commencement of the traffic. In the 
New World possessions of Spain eleven other rebellions are recorded 
between the years 1522 and 1553, of which those of 1533, 1537, and 
1548 occurred in Santo Domingo. During the following century two 
revolts took place at Haiti, one at Port-de-Paix in 1679 an d another 
in i6o,i. 9 

These sixteenth century uprisings occurred before the introduction 
of slavery into North America, and the others took place before the 
slave trade to the colonies was in significant operation. It will be seen 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 91 

how faithfully the example set by the slaves who, in 1522, revolted 
against their masters was followed, however undesignedly, by many 
thousands of those coming after them. 

Only the outstanding slave revolts outside the United States can 
be indicated here, since systematic research into the problem of the 
"Maroon, " as the runaway slave can generically be termed, is for the 
future. Enough is known from study of the available facts, how- 
ever, to indicate the richness of the field and its potentialities in 
giving us perspective on the reaction of the Negro to slavery. Over 
the entire New World, in so far as is known, the earliest prolonged 
protests were in the southernmost parts of the slaving area. One of 
the most famous of these is the Palmares "republic." In 1650 some 
Brazilian slaves in the province of Pernambuco, all native Africans, 
fled to the near-by forest. As news spread of their escape, other 
Negroes joined them ; as a measure of prudence this larger group 
moved farther into the bush. From their settlement, named Palmares, 
they raided the plantations for women, eventually setting up an 
ordered society. Slaves who escaped to them were recognized as free 
citizens, but those who were captured in raids continued as slaves, 
since they had lacked the courage to achieve their own freedom. As 
the population grew, subsidiary villages were established. At its 
height, the town of Palmares is said to have had a population of 
about 20,000, with a hinterland which gave a total fighting force of 
some 10,000 men. Because of the increasing danger to the white 
settlements, the Portuguese in 1696 assembled an army of nearly 
7,000 men for the attack. Palmares was surrounded by a stockade, 
but lacked the artillery necessary for defense, and was finally taken. 
Most of the warriors committed suicide, and those who were cap- 
tured, being deemed too dangerous to be reenslaved, were killed. 10 

To the north, the Bush Negroes of Dutch Guiana offer another 
example of what determined men could accomplish when faced with 
the prospect of a life of servitude. Slave revolts, beginning about 
the middle of the seventeenth century, here as in Brazil resulted in 
escape to the surrounding jungle where, far in the interior of the 
country, the refugees set up their villages. The Bush Negroes, as 
these escaped slaves are called, thereafter descended periodically to 
the coastal cultivations, raiding slave barracoons and masters' houses. 
Only those born in Africa "salt-water" Negroes, as they were 
termed were taken away, since it was feared that to take Creoles, 
or those born in the colony, would vitiate the singleness of Bush 
Negro purpose and dilute the African character of their customs. So 
serious were these depredations that at about the time of the Amer- 



92 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

ican Revolution the Dutch engaged a considerable force of mer- 
cenaries to subdue the revolted slaves. The account of the warfare 
against the Negroes given by Captain Stedman pays tribute to the 
military ability of his opponents, who were so successful in keeping 
off the attacking force that few members of the expedition survived. 
In 1825 the Dutch government concluded a treaty of peace with the 
Bush Negroes whereby, in consideration of their agreement to re- 
frain from pillaging the coastal region and to return to their masters 
such runaway slaves as came to them, their own freedom was guar- 
anteed in perpetuity. Today the tribes of Bush Negroes carry on a 
civilization they realize to be African and insist will remain so. They 
are determined that the whites shall not again enslave them they 
refuse to believe that this will not be attempted at some future time 
and in 1930, when the Netherlands government proposed to license 
their guns, they were fully prepared to resist, and their chiefs and 
village heads returned Dutch uniforms and other insignia to Para- 
maribo, the capital of the colony. 11 

Many revolts occurred in the Caribbean, where the planters were 
so apprehensive of Negro uprisings that this feeling persists to the 
present among the whites resident there. The Virgin Islands, now 
possessions of the United States, have had their share of slave unrest. 
In 1733 an insurrection occurred on the island of St. John that 
almost achieved the death of the governor. The planters fled, but not 
before the revolt cost the lives of a considerable number of whites. 
The only fort on the island had but a small garrison. On the day 
planned, the Negroes who customarily brought wood concealed knives 
and cutlasses in their bundles and, at a prearranged signal, fell on 
the soldiers. As soon as they were in possession of the fort they 
fired a gun, whereupon the plantation slaves arose. The survivors of 
the initial attack embarked for Tortola and St. Thomas, and though 
the Danish troops in the other islands recovered the fort, the slaves 
were so well organized that the recapture of St. John was impossible 
without reinforcement. The Royal Council obtained the help of 60 
men from a vessel lying in the harbor of St. Thomas, but they also 
were repulsed. Finally, 400 French soldiers were sent from Mar- 
tinique, and these were able to isolate the revolters on the northeast 
side of the island, where, however, the slaves held off this superior 
force for six months. When at last they were defeated, 300 Negroes 
threw themselves from a precipice, while the seven leaders shot each 
other. 12 Another large revolt occurred on the island of St. Croix, in 
this group, in I75Q. 13 This tradition of rebellion was not forgotten 
by the whites when, almost a century later, the slaves became so 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 93 

threatening in their protest against the proposal to enforce a twelve- 
year period of probation prior to emancipation that the governor, on 
July 3, 1848, decreed an immediate end to slavery. 14 

The slave revolts in Haiti that culminated in the establishment of 
the present "Black Republic/' whose independence has now been 
maintained for almost a century and a half, have been recounted so 
often that it is not necessary to tell the tale here. Less well under- 
stood is the role in the history of that country of the constant 
smaller uprisings that laid the groundwork for the final thrusts 
which drove the whites from the island. The initial revolts have 
already been enumerated ; 15 that the potential power of the slaves 
was early recognized is to be seen from a report made to the Minister 
of Colonies in Paris which, dated 1685, states, "In the Negroes we 
possess a formidable domestic enemy/' A hundred years later, an 
army officer, also a plantation owner, wrote : "A colony of slaves is 
a city under constant threat of assault ; there one walks on barrels 
of powder." Marronage, as running away was termed, was success- 
ful enough so that these escaped slaves had their freedom formally 
recognized in 1784. In 1720 alone a thousand Negroes made off, 
and in 1751 at least three times this number. The name of Macandal, 
a "Guinea" Negro, who was the leader of one of these bands, has 
gone down into Haitian lore. Moreau de St. Mery recounts the 
strength of runaway groups living in the mountains behind the great 
central plain of the island; he also tells of a group in the south who, 
when finally subdued, was found to number among its members men 
of fifty years and more who had been born in the freedom of their 
retreat. 16 

Slave uprisings occurred everywhere in the British West Indies. 
On the island of St. Vincent, Negroes joined the aboriginal Carib 
Indians in action against the masters. They were eventually defeated 
and transported to the mainland, where today in British Honduras 
their descendants still live. Known as Black Caribs, this unstudied 
people constitutes one of the strategic points for future attack on 
New World Negro acculturation, since they represent an Indian- 
African amalgam that should establish a further control in the 
historical laboratory where this problem is to be studied. 17 In 
Trinidad a Dahomean named Daaga, enslaved by the Portuguese but 
released by the British contraband control, joined the West India 
Regiment with the purpose of eventual revolt. He was aided by the 
other Dahomeans he met in the island, and members of African 
tribes bordering on his own. His planned uprising was only put 
down with a considerable loss of life to the blacks. 18 



94 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

The treatment of the slaves in Barbados was notably harsh, and 
it is not surprising to read that there were "frequent slave revolts 
and projected (alas! one feels inclined to exclaim seldom accom- 
plished) massacres of the whites." An initial rising in 1649 " was 
abortive, for as usual one tender-hearted negro could not bear to 
think of his white master (a judge) being murdered, so revealed the 
plot in time for measures of repression to be taken/' Twenty-five 
years later another revolt was planned, this time under the leadership 
of "the warlike Kromanti slaves" members of the Ashanti-Fanti 
tribes of the Gold Coast but this uprising was likewise betrayed 
and suppressed. The same story was repeated in 1692, and again in 
1702. During the latter part of the seventeenth century slaves are 
said to have taken canoes to escape to the French islands or to find 
refuge among the Caribs, perhaps of Trinidad. Finally, in 1815, a 
free mulatto named Washington Franklin began to circulate among 
the slaves the abolitionist speeches made in Britain, also telling them 
of the success achieved by the Negroes in Haiti. The uprising that 
came the following year took a severe toll before it, too, was put 
down "with great loss of life to the negroes," the rebels being de- 
ported to British Honduras. 19 

The history of slave revolt in Jamaica is a long one. The story 
involves successful rebellion, and a mass return to Sierra Leone in 
Africa by way of Nova Scotia, where descendants of the revolters 
live to the present time. Some of the Maroons, as these revolted 
Jamaican Negroes are termed, elected to remain in their Cockpit 
Hill country, and here their descendants are to be found to the 
present day. 20 Their separate corporate entity is recognized by the 
British government under terms of a treaty of peace signed at 
the conclusion of fighting between these escaped slaves and the gov- 
ernment forces, whereby they also live untaxed by the central gov- 
ernment, selecting their own headmen and having the right to hold 
their own courts and compel obedience to their own laws. 

Other islands, French as well as British, provide further in- 
stances. The data concerning the revolts in most of these islands 
have never been published, so that such materials exist only in man- 
uscript form ; such hints of revolt and other forms of protest as are 
come upon in the literature indicate how rich this vein may prove 
to be. 21 Cuba, likewise, affords a fruitful field for future study. Mrs. 
Frederika Bremer, a Scandinavian traveler in- the southern United 
States and Cuba shortly before the Civil War, gives us one of the 
few contemporary descriptions of slavery in that island. She tells of 
the many difficulties she encountered in obtaining permission to wit- 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 95 

ness the religious rites carried on by the colonies of free Negroes, 
since "the government is very suspicious of strangers" : 

The slave disturbances of 1846 are still fresh in the minds of people, 
and they originated in this part of the island. These disturbances, which 
gave rise to such cruel proceedings on the part of the Spanish govern- 
ment have also caused severe restrictions to be laid upon the occupations 
and amusements of the free negroes. Formerly, it is said, might be heard 
every evening and night, both afar and near, the joyous sound of the 
African drum, as it was beaten at the negro dances. When, however, it 
was discovered that these dancing assemblies had been made use of for 
the organization of the disturbances which afterward took place, their 
liberty became very much circumscribed. 22 

According to this same observer, resistance to slavery in Cuba by 
means of suicide and the use of magic was common : 

When the negroes become accustomed to the labor and life of the 
plantation, it seems to agree with them ; but during the first years, when 
they are brought here free and wild from Africa, it is very hard to them, 
and many seek to free themselves from slavery by suicide. This is fre- 
quently the case among the Luccomees, who appear to be among the 
noblest tribes of Africa, and it is not long since eleven Luccomees were 
found hanging from the branches of a guasima tree. . . . They had 
each one bound his breakfast in a girdle around him; for the African 
believes that such as die here immediately rise again to new life in their 
native land. Many female slaves, therefore, will lay upon the corpse of 
the self -murdered the kerchief, or the head-gear, which she most ad- 
mires, in the belief that it will thus be conveyed to those who are dear 
to her in the mother-country, and will bear them a salutation from her. 
The corpse of a suicide-slave has been seen covered with hundreds of 
such tokens. 23 



The reaction of the slaves to slavery in the United States has been 
given serious attention only in recent years. Most earlier historians 
took it for granted that the slaves were merely passive elements in 
the historical scene. The political history of the period of slavery 
could understandably be written without considering the Negroes, 
though the influence of potential revolts on policy might perhaps 
have been profitably taken into account. Disregard of the Negro in 
the field of social and economic history, and where the history of 
ideas is under consideration, is more serious, since here the influence 
of the Negroes was an immediate factor. Conventionally, however, 



96 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

ideas concerning slavery that are treated are those of pro- and anti- 
slavery whites; the social institutions of the pre-Civil War South 
analyzed are the institutions of the whites; the economics of slavery 
consists largely of prices of slaves and the productivity of the Negro 
in various employments. Even such outstanding social historians as 
Charles and Mary Beard make no mention of slave revolts in their 
principal work; the forces in shaping the trend of events in the 
United States before 1860, at least, are for them to be understood in 
terms of white thought and white action. 24 

This approach, however, seems to be slowly giving way to a dif- 
ferent tradition in historical scholarship. The following passage from 
a recent economic history is suggestive of the wider perspectives of 
more recent research : 

Slave Conspiracies. The constant fear of slave rebellion made life in 
the South a nightmare, especially in regions where conspiracies were of 
frequent occurrence. ... In Colonial days there had been several up- 
risings where white people lost their lives. 25 

This passage is followed by accounts of the New York uprising of 
1712, of the South Carolina rebellions of 1720 and 1739, of Ga- 
briel's insurrection of 1800, and of three nineteenth century revolts. 
Or, as another instance, the reaction of the South toward the slave 
during the thirties and forties of the past century as summarized by 
Fish may be taken : 

Nor was the fear of property loss the only or the greatest of Southern 
apprehensions. One of the strongest points in Southern culture was its 
acquaintance with the elements of classical literature. To them the his- 
tory of the servile wars in Rome was a familiar topic. Nor was it ancient 
history alone which alarmed them. Fresh in their memory were the 
horrors of the Negro revolution in Haiti. Toussaint L'Ouverture, who 
to Wendell Phillips was an apostle of liberty, was to them a demon of 
cruelty. How far the Negroes who surrounded them, who cooked their 
food and nursed their children, had been affected by civilization, and 
how far they retained the primitive savagery they were presumed to 
have brought from Africa, they did not learn until the Civil War. 26 

In an even more recent textbook of American history, considera- 
tion of the slave regime is oriented to include the "numerous insur- 
rections" that "bear witness to maladjustments among the slaves," 
specific mention being made of nine of these revolts; while a recent 
history of North Carolina before the Civil War devotes an entire 
section to this aspect of the past of that state. 27 

The most systematic study of slave uprisings in the United States, 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 97 

however, is to be found in certain papers published during the past 
five years, wherein the source materials have been reinvestigated 
with the problem of the Negro's reaction to slavery as the primary 
objective. Wish, in the paper already referred to, and Aptheker, in 
a study published at about the same time, demonstrated how often 
slave dissatisfaction was translated into active revolt, and how ac- 
curate such a description of ever-present fear on the part of the 
whites just given in the passage from the work of Fish may be 
regarded. 28 The mere number of these attempts as given in these 
contributions is impressive, especially when it is remembered that 
news of a slave uprising was usually not published unless it was of 
some magnitude. Aptheker, in his most recent publication, tells of 
the first of these revolts in continental North America in the fol- 
lowing passage : * 

The first settlement within the present borders of the United States 
to contain Negro slaves was the victim of the first slave revolt. A Spanish 
colonizer, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, in the summer of 1526, founded a 
town near the mouth of the Petlee river in what is now South Carolina. 
The community consisted of five hundred Spaniards and one hundred 
Negro slaves. Trouble soon beset the colony. Illness caused numerous 
deaths, carrying off, in October, Ayllon himself. The Indians grew more 
hostile and dangerous. Finally, probably in November, the slaves re- 
belled, killed several of their masters, and escaped to the Indians. This 
was a fatal blow and the remaining colonists but one hundred and fifty 
souls returned to Haiti in December, I526. 29 

This was but an eddy in the main current of American history, but 
it was a portent of things to come. Six uprisings in continental 
United States are listed by this author for the period between 1663 
and 1 700, fifty during the eighteenth century, and fifty-three be- 
tween 1800 and i864. 30 

Wish has described, with rich documentation, the panic that swept 
over the South in 1856: 

In the fall of 1856 a series of startling allegations regarding numerous 
slave insurrections broke the habitual reserve maintained on the topic by 
the Southern press. Wild rumors of an all-embracing slave plot extend- 
ing from Delaware to Texas, with execution set for Christmas day, 
spread through the South. Tales were yet unforgotten of Gabriel's 
"army" attempting to march on Richmond in 1800, of Denmark Vesey's 
elaborate designs upon Charleston in 1822, of Nat Turner's bloody in- 
surrection at Southampton, Virginia, in 1831, and of the various other 
plots and outbreaks that characterized American slavery since the days 
of the early ship mutinies. Silence in the press could not stem the recur- 



98 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

rent fears of insurrection transmitted by the effective "grapevine" in- 
telligence of the South. 31 

Fear was translated into action in various sections as, for ex- 
ample, in the organization of special vigilante bands in Texas as 
one discovery followed another. In Tennessee and Kentucky actual 
plots were exposed, Missouri and Arkansas reported projected up- 
risings, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, and Virginia ex- 
perienced an increase in slave repression, while the demand grew for 
the enslavement of the free Negroes to wipe out a possible focus of 
infection. The situation is thus summarized : 

Although the thesis of an all-embracing slave plot in the South shows 
remarkable cohesion on the whole as far as geographic and chronological 
circumstances are concerned, muchjran be explained away by a counter- 
thesis of a panic contagion originating in the unusual political setting of 
the year. It seems probable, however, that a large number of slave plots 
did exist in 1856. The situation in Kentucky and Tennessee particularly 
seemed to involve authenticated stories of proposed insurrections. It 
also seems apparent from the news items and editorials of the contem- 
porary press that the year 1856 was exceptional for the large crop of 
individual slave crimes reported, especially those directed against the 
life of the master. This fact would suggest a fair amount of reality 
behind the accounts of slave discontent and plotting. The deep-seated 
feeling of insecurity characterizing the slaveholder's society evoked such 
mob reactions as those noted in the accounts of insurrections, imaginary 
and otherwise, upon any suspicion of Negro insubordination. The South, 
attributing the slave plots to the inspiration of Northern abolitionists, 
found an additional reason for the desirability of secession; while the 
abolitionist element of the North, crediting in full the reports of slave 
outbreaks, was more convinced than ever that the institution of slavery' 
represented a moral leprosy. 32 

It is not necessary here to detail the revolts which became most 
famous in the South those of Gabriel in i8oo 33 and of Nat Turner 
in 1831, in Virginia, and the South Carolina uprising led by Den- 
mark Vesey in 1822. The tendency to revolt was unremittent, cover- 
ing all 'the southern states, and those northern ones as well during 
the period they sanctioned slavery. It was more than the sporadic 
and insignificant phenomenon it is sometimes dismissed as having 
been in passages like the following : 

Insurrection was more of an anticipated danger than an actual one. 
As soon as the negro population became at all formidable, energetic 
measures were taken to prevent the possibility of revolt, and they were 
largely successful. Though a number of attempted or supposed con- 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 99 

spiracies were discovered during the seventeenth and eighteenth cen- 
turies, no actual insurrection worthy of the name occurred until the 
nineteenth, when the rigor of slavery and slave legislation was past. 
Absconding and outlying servants and slaves or assemblies, incited and 
aided by Indians, whites especially convicts and foreigners and free 
negroes were a convenient nucleus for combined action, and for this 
reason restrictive and punitive legislation was especially directed toward 
them. In this connection developed a system of police patrol known and 
feared among the negroes as the "Paterollers." 34 

Small most of the revolts were, yet in their aggregate and persistence 
over the entire period of slaving 35 they give point to the comments 
made by a recent Netherlands observer of the interracial situation 
in America, that today one of the keys to an understanding of the 
South is the fear of the Negro, a legacy of slavery. 36 



The Negro registered his protest against slavery in other ways 
than by open revolt, for, where organization was not feasible, indi- 
viduals could only protest as best they might. Outstanding were the 
methods of slowing down work, and what seems to have been cal- 
culated misuse of implements furnished the slave by his master. 
These latter methods, though often commented on, have almost 
never been recognized as modes of slave protest. They are adduced 
as evidence of the laziness and irresponsibility of the African, when 
they are not merely cited without comment as an element in the 
added economic cost of slavery as against a system of free employ- 
ment. Once the interpretation of such behavior as sabotage is em- 
ployed, however, instance after instance comes to mind where con- 
temporary writers tell how the slaves did no more work than they 
were compelled to do and had to be watched incessantly even at the 
simplest tasks; but how, when competent in skilled trades and per- 
mitted to attain worth-while goals, such as the purchase of their own 
freedom, they worked well without supervision. Similarly, where 
slaves cultivated their own plots of ground after hours, the energy 
they put to such tasks is remarked on again and again. The com- 
ment of one slaveowner to Olmsted, "If I could get such hired men 
as you can in New York, I'd never have another nigger on my 
place," 37 indicates sufficiently how great was the problem of forcing 
an unwilling worker to perform his stint. 

Olmsted's works may be quoted further for other examples of 



ioo THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

slave protest. In the following passage, he shows the attitudes a slave- 
owner had to combat : 

The treatment of the mass must be reduced to a system, the ruling 
idea of which will be, to enable one man to force into the same channel 
of labor the muscles of a large number of men of various, and often 
conflicting wills. The chief difficulty is to overcome their great aversion 
to labor. They have no objection to eating, drinking, and resting, when 
'necessary, and no general disinclination to receive instruction. 38 

"The constant misapplication and waste of labor on many of the 
rice plantations/' he tells us in another work, "is inconceivably 
great. " He expands his initial statement as follows: 

Owing to the proverbial stupidity and dogged prejudice of the negro 
(but peculiar to him only as he is more carefully poisoned with ignorance 
than the laborer of other countries), it is exceedingly difficult to intro- 
duce new and improved methods of applying his labor. He always 
strongly objects to all new- fashioned implements; and if they are forced 
into his hands, he will do his best to break them, or to make them only 
do such work as shall compare unfavorably with what he has been accus- 
tomed to do without them. It is a common thing, I am told, to see a 
large gang of negroes, each carrying about four shovelsful of earth 
upon a board balanced on his head, walking slowly along on the embank- 
ment, so as to travel around two sides of a large field, perhaps for a 
mile, to fill a breach a job which an equal number of Irishmen would 
accomplish, by laying planks across the field and running wheelbarrows 
upon them, in a tenth of the time. The clumsy iron hoe is, almost every- 
where, made to do the work of pick, spade, shovel, and plow. I have 
seen it used to dig a grave. On many plantations, a plow has never been 
used; the land being entirely prepared for the crop by chopping with 
the hoe, as I have described. 39 

In the case of one experience, he further documents his assertions : 

On the rice plantation I have particularly described, the slaves were, 
I judge, treated with at least as much discretion and judicious considera- 
tion of economy, consistent with humane regard for their health, com- 
fort, and morals, as on any other in all the Slave States ; yet I could not 
avoid observing and I certainly took no pains to do so, nor were any 
special facilities afforded me to do it repeated instances of waste and 
misapplication of labor which it can never be possible to guard against, 
when the agents of industry are slaves. Many such evidences of waste 
it would not be easy to specify ; and others, which remain in my memory 
after some weeks, do not adequately account for the general impression 
that .all I saw gave me; but there were, for instance, under my observa- 
tion, gates left open and bars left down, against standing orders; rails 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 101 

removed from fences by the negroes, as was conjectured, to kindle their 
fires with; mules lamed, and implements broken, by careless usage; a 
flat-boat carelessly secured, going adrift on the river; men ordered to 
cart rails for a new fence, depositing them so that a double expense of 
labor would be required to lay them, more than would have been needed 
if they had been placed, as they might almost as easily have been, by a 
slight exercise of forethought ; men, ordered to fill up holes made by 
alligators or crawfish in an important embankment, discovered to have 
merely patched over the outside, having taken pains only to make it 
appear that they had executed their task not having been overlooked 
while doing it, by a driver ; men, not having performed duties that were 
entrusted to them, making statements which their owner was obliged to, 
receive as sufficient excuse, though, he told us, he felt assured they were 
false all going to show habitual carelessness, indolence, and mere eye- 
service. 40 

These passages must not be regarded as indicating any organized 
system of sabotage such as might conceivably be read into this and 
other specific evidences of willful waste found in the writings of the 
times. Refusal to accept the plow in place of the hoe may, indeed, 
have been a direct result of labor patterns brought from Africa it- 
self, since there the hoe is the primary agricultural tool, the plow 
nowhere being known. Certainly the slave's ineptness cannot be laid 
to inherited incompetence. Free Negroes, or slaves, released for 
work in the towns on condition that they return to their masters a 
percentage of their wages, had no difficulty in successfully employ- 
ing implements far newer and more complicated than the plow, or a 
pick or a shovel. A possible survival of an aboriginal work habit, 
plus what would seem to be an un formulated drive to see to it that 
the master profit no more than a minimum from the slave's labor, 
would seem to account for the wastefulness so clearly revealed. In 
any event, to show that under slavery the Negro was a reluctant, 
willfully inefficient worker is to adduce further proof that he did 
not exhibit that docility held to be so deep-rooted a part of his nature. 

Malingering and temporary escape also were common methods of 
avoiding labor; Olmsted can again be called on for testimony con- 
cerning these methods : 

The slave, if he is indisposed to work, and especially if he is not 
treated well, or does not like the master who has hired him, will sham 
sickness even make himself sick or lame that he need not work. But 
a more serious loss frequently arises, when the slave, thinking he is 
worked too hard, or being angered by punishment or unkind treatment, 
"getting the sulks," takes to "the swamp," and comes back when he has 
a mind to. Often this will not be till the year is up for which he is 



IO2 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

engaged, when he will return to his owner who, glad to find his property 
safe, and that it has not died in the swamp, or gone to Canada, forgets 
to punish him, and immediately sends him for another year to a new 
master. 41 

Other ways of accomplishing this same end are also indicated: 

He afterwards said that his negroes never worked so hard as to tire 
themselves always were lively, and ready to go off on a frolic at night. 
He did not think they ever did half a fair day's work. They could not 
be made to work hard : they never would lay out their strength freely, 
and it was impossible to make them do it. This is just what I have 
'thought when I have seen slaves at work they seem to go through the 
motions of labor without putting strength into them. They keep their 
powers in reserve for their own use at night, perhaps. 42 

How carefully and constantly watch had to be kept over slaves is 
suggested in this passage : 

The overseer rode among them, on a horse, carrying in his hand a raw- 
hide whip, constantly directing and encouraging them ; but, as my com- 
panion and myself, both, several times noticed, as often as he visited 
one end of the line of operations, the hands at the other end would dis- 
continue their labor, until he turned to ride towards them again. 43 

It is by methods such as these that the defenseless everywhere pro- 
tect themselves ; and, as always, the master is helpless against passive 
resistance of this sort, even more than against more active forms of 
protest. The situation described in the citations from Olmsted could 
be matched with others, from both the United States and the West 
Indies, and helps us understand the exasperation that drove slave- 
owners to inexpressible cruelties. It is but the repetition of a well- 
worn truth to indicate that systems based on force must resort to 
force to make them work at all ; yet it must be indicated again that 
to approach the matter solely from the viewpoint of the slaveowner, 
after the manner of most discussions of slave life under slavery, has 
obscured the importance of these forms of protest and has done 
much to establish the stereotype of the innately irresponsible and 
innately lazy Negro. 

Suicide, infanticide, and poisoning were often resorted to as a 
means of avoiding slave status. Bruce speaks of "suicide among 
adults" as "not unknown." 44 Ball, speaking from experience, says: 

Self-destruction is much more frequent among the slaves in the cotton 
region than is generally supposed. . . . Suicide amongst the slaves is 
regarded as a matter of dangerous example, and as one which it is the 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 103 

business and the interest of all proprietors to discountenance and pre- 
vent. All the arguments which can be derived against it are used to deter 
negroes from the perpetuation of it and such as take this dreadful 
means of freeing themselves from their miseries, are always branded 
in reputation after death, as the worst of criminals, and their bodies are 
not allowed the small portion of Christian rites which are awarded to 
the corpses of other slaves. 45 

It is not without interest to learn that Nat Turner, the leader of 
one of the most important slave revolts, was almost a victim of his 
mother's frantic refusal to bring another slave into the world. Her- 
self African born, she is said "to have been so wild that at Nat's 
birth she had to be tied to prevent her from murdering him." 46 Bas- 
sett speaks of the task of the overseer "to see that the women were 
taken care of that childbirth might be attended by no serious mis- 
hap." He continues: 

The ignorance of the women made it necessary to take many precau- 
tions. A large number of children died soon after being born. In many 
cases it was reported that the mothers lay on them in the night. How 
much this was due to sheer ignorance, how much to the alleged indiffer- 
ence of the slave women for their offspring, and how much to a desire 
to bring no children into the world to live under slavery it is impossible 
to say. Perhaps each cause contributed to the result. 47 

Modern historical research has made evident the affection of the 
slave mother for her children; ignorance of child care is a difficult 
explanation why many mothers killed their children by lying on them 
at night. That the third cause listed in the preceding quotation was 
by far the most valid would seem to be the likeliest conclusion. 
Poisoning is not often mentioned in the literature, but Brackett 48 
writes of a number of cases of Maryland slaves who were brought 
before the courts charged with attempts on the lives of their masters. 
Running away, another form of protest, is well recognized. To 
cite Olmsted once more, it was "so common that southern writers 
gravely describe it as a disease a monomania, to which the negro 
race is peculiarly subject"; to which this writer adds the aside 
"making the common mistake of attributing to blood that which is 
much more rationally to be traced to condition." 49 It is but necessary 
to read any of the numerous biographies of escaped slaves or the 
tales of escape contained in reports of the "underground railroad" 50 
to realize the strength of the compulsions toward freedom. Risks 
were great and punishment in the event of capture of the severest, 
yet men and women by the thousands took the risks. 



IO4 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

One commentary is found in the reports of the operations of the 
underground railroad regarding the type of Negro who refused to 
accept the status of slave where he could possibly escape. For it is 
apparent that a large proportion of those who attempted and achieved 
flight were just those most-favored Negroes who might be expected 
to be the least moved to resentment the educated men who could 
read and write, the skilled craftsmen, the house servants. The case 
of two slaves, hired out by their owner, a widow named Mrs. Louisa 
White of Richmond, Virginia, is typical. Both were skilled; William, 
a baker, was worth $1,200 to his owner, while James was equally 
valuable. Editorial comment in the Richmond Despatch read : 

. . . These negroes belong to a widow lady and constitute all the prop- 
erty she has on earth. They have both been raised with the greatest 
indulgence. Had it been otherwise, they would never have had an op- 
portunity to escape, as they have done. Their flight has left her penni- 
less. Either of them would have readily sold for $1200; and Mr. Toler 
advised their owner to sell them at the commencement of the year, prob- 
ably anticipating the very thing that has happened. She refused to do so, 
because she felt too much attachment to them. They have made a fine 
return, truly. 51 

Knowing how to read and write, James was able from Canada to 
answer a letter from his late owner asking that he return to save her 
from the distress and financial embarrassment his escape had caused 
her: 

Instead of weeping over the sad situation of his "penniless" mistress 
and showing any signs of contrition for having wronged the man who 
held the mortgage of seven hundred and fifty dollars on him, James 
actually "feels rejoiced in the Lord for his liberty," and is "very much 
pleased with Toronto" ; but is not satisfied yet, he is even concocting a 
plan by which his wife might be run off from Richmond, which would 
be the cause of her owner (Henry W. Quarles, Esq.) losing at least one 
thousand dollars. 52 

It will probably never be known how many slaves did make good 
their escape; that protest continued to the very end of the period is 
shown by recent historical studies into the behavior of the slaves 
during the Civil War. 53 It is widely held that most slaves refused to 
desert their masters and mistresses, preferring to remain with their 
"white folks" rather than risk the life of free men. Not only in the 
Sea Islands, where the Negroes were first liberated, did they refuse 
to accompany their masters fleeing from the northern troops, 54 but 
elsewhere slaves helped the Union troops wherever possible, as either 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 105 

soldiers or scouts, or by carrying information from behind the Con- 
federate lines, or by performing manual labor on fortifications and 
other military works. Naturally, many slaves did remain with their 
masters during these times of stress, and this suggests that the range 
of variation in human temperament to be found everywhere existed 
in the large Negro population of the time. 



The widespread and often successful character of organized re- 
volts by Negro slaves indicates that among the Africans brought to 
the New World there must have been leaders able to take command 
when opportunity offered, and whose traditions of leadership were 
passed on to those who came after them. Africa had military spe- 
cialists and, scarcely less important, those whose duty it was to see 
that the supernatural forces were rendered favorable before a given 
campaign was undertaken. The problem which we must attempt to 
answer, then, is the extent to which a process of selectivity was 
operative during enslavement that favored or tended to eliminate 
such specialists; whether, as eventually constituted, the slave popu- 
lation represented a cross section of the West African communities 
from which it was derived or was weighted toward either end of the 
social scale. 

Opinion most generally has it that there was a strong weighting 
caused by the fact that Africans of least worth in their own coun- 
tries were sold as slaves; or, because of lack of ability, fell most 
ready prey to the slaver. There is evidence to prove that some repre- 
sentatives of the upper socio-economic strata of African societies, 
at least, were sold into slavery; and there is some reason to believe 
that certain of these men or their descendants, such as Christophe, 
became leaders in the organized slave revolts of the New World. 
Mrs. Bremer gives an instance of a slave of noble African blood: 

Many of the slaves, also, who are brought to Cuba have been princes 
and chiefs of their tribes, and such of their race as have accompanied 
them into slavery on the plantations always show them respect and 
obedience. A very young man, a prince of the Luccomees, with several 
of his nation, was taken to a plantation on which, from some cause or 
other, he was condemned to be flogged, and the others, as is customary 
in such cases, to witness the punishment. When the young prince laid 
himself down on the ground to receive the lashes, his attendants did 
the same likewise, requesting to be allowed to share his punishment. 55 



io6 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Again, Moreau de St. Mery tells of the respect shown in Haiti to 
members of African royal families : 

The Mina Negroes have even been seen to recognize princes of their 
country . . . prostrating themselves at their feet and rendering them 
that homage whose contrast to the state of servitude to which these 
princes have been reduced in the colony offers a striking enough in- 
stance of the instability of human greatness. 56 

Field work in West Africa has made available some further in- 
formation regarding the inclusion of upper-class persons in the slave 
cargoes. These data come entirely from Dahomey no comparable 
materials have been collected elsewhere so that any generalizations 
drawn from them must be made with all reservations. Yet the fact 
that in this instance traditional history is so specific might indicate 
that the mechanisms involved were more widely operative in West 
Africa than the facts previously in hand suggest. 

Tradition has it that, in Dahomey, considerable numbers of per- 
sons were enslaved as a result of dynastic quarrels. When a new 
king was to ascend a throne, his right to the kingship was some- 
times disputed by a brother, the son of a different wife of their 
common father. If revolt broke out, whatever the result, the winner 
had at hand the slave market to dispose of his rival. This not only 
meant that the unsuccessful contender was safely and profitably 
disposed of, but that his family and supporting chiefs, his diviners 
and the "priests who had advised and aided him were also enslaved. 
The extent to which this account represents an exaggeration of oral 
tradition must not be lost sight of; it is well known that one of 
the Dahomean kings, Glele, was for many years held prisoner under 
the regency of an uncle, who sold the queen mother into slavery, 
and probably others of the royal compound. It is an historical fact 
that Da Souza, the Portuguese mulatto confidant of Glele, after his 
friend had regained his throne, traveled to Brazil to find and bring 
back the deported mother of the king. Tradition says he was suc- 
cessful; history says the mission failed. 

This tradition concerning dynastic disputes would account for 
members of the Dahomean nobility being slaved; a further tradition 
tells the circumstances under which priests of the native cults were 
sold away in considerable numbers. The explanation of this fact is 
likewise political, though intertribal rather than intratribal differ- 
ences are involved. Local priests, especially those of the river cults, 
are held to have been the most intransigeaht among the folk whom 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 107 

the Dahomeans conquered. While it seems to have been policy to 
spare compliant priests so that the gods of a conquered people would 
not be unduly irritated and thus be rendered dangerous, priests who 
refused to submit, or who were detected in intrigue against the con- 
querors, were disposed of through sale to the slavers. It is firmly 
believed in Dahomey today that one of the reasons why the French 
conquered their country was that, having sold away all those com- 
petent to placate the powerful rivjer-gods, these beings finally took 
their vengeance in this manner. 

It is apparent that here is a mechanism which may well account 
for the tenaciousness of African religious beliefs in the New 
World, which, as will be seen in later pages, bulk largest among 
the various elements of West African culture surviving. What 
could have more effectively aided in this than the presence of a con- 
siderable number of specialists who could interpret the universe in 
terms of aboriginal belief? What, indeed, could have more ade- 
quately sanctioned resistance to slavery than the presence of priests 
who, able to assure supernatural support to leaders and followers 
alike, helped them fight by giving the conviction that the powers of 
their ancestors were aiding them in their struggle for freedom? 57 

On the basis of such evidence from Africa and the New World 
as is available, then, a prima-facie case can be made that the slave 
population included a certain number of representatives from Afri- 
can governing and priestly classes. What of the vast majority of 
slaves? Were they criminals and malcontents or derived from those 
incapable of carrying on in their aboriginal cultures? Contemporary 
testimony seems to be unanimous that there was no selective process 
that would have taken such types rather than others into slavery. 
Pere Labat, who lived in the French West Indies for many years 
at the height of slavery, listed four classes in the African popula- 
tion from which slaves were drawn. First, he says, were those whose 
punishment against native law had been commuted to perpetual 
banishment that is, to slavery "for the private profit of the kings." 
The second group were prisoners of war; the third those who, 
already slaves, were sold to meet the need of their masters for 
money. The fourth group, which Labat says comprised by far the 
greatest number, were those captured by marauding bands of rob- 
bers who, with the connivance of native rulers, carried on these 
raids to satisfy the demands of the European dealers. 58 

Snelgrave, active himself in the trade, gives the following ways 
in which the Negroes were enslaved : 



io8 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

As for the Manner how those People become Slaves ; it may be re- 
duced under these several Heads. 

i. It has been the Custom among the Negroes, time out of Mind, and 
is so to this day, for them to make Slaves of all the Captives they take 
in war. Now, before they had an Opportunity of selling them to the 
white People, they were often obliged to kill great Multitudes, when 
they had taken more than they could well employ on their own Planta- 
tions, for fear that they should rebel, and endanger their Masters safety. 

2dly. Most Crimes amongst them are punished by Mulcts and Fines ; 
and if the Offender has not the wherewithal to pay his Fine, he is sold 
for a Slave : This is the practice of the inland People, as well as of those 
on the Sea Side. 

$dly. Debtors who refuse to pay their Debts, or are insolvent, are 
likewise liable to be made Slaves ; but their Friends may redeem them : 
And if they are not able or willing to do it, then they are generally sold 
for the benefit of their Creditors. But few of these come into the hands 
of the Europeans, being kept by their Countrymen ff)r their own use. 

4thly. I have been told, That it is common for some inland People, to 
sell their Children for Slaves, tho' they are under no Necessity for so 
doing; which I am inclined to believe. But I never observed, that the 
People near the Sea Coast practise this, unless compelled thereto by 
extreme Want and Famine, as the People of Whidaw have lately been. 69 

Falconbridge repeatedly stressed enslavement by kidnaping, and also 
describes the method called boating, whereby sailors would put off 
a small boat from their ship, load it with supplies, and, sailing up the 
rivers, take on whatever natives came into their hands, whether by 
sale or by capture : 

I have good reason to believe, that of one hundred and twenty negroes, 
which were purchased for the ship to which I then belonged, then lying 
at the river Ambris, by far the greater part, if not the whole, were 
kidnapped. This, with various other instances, confirms me in the belief 
that kidnapping is the fund which supplies the thousands of negroes 
annually sold off these extensive Windward, and other Coasts, where 
boating prevails. 60 

In West African wars, no persons were considered noncombatants ; 
everyone encountered by a conquering army was captured, and either 
retained for use by his captors, sacrificed in their religious rites, or 
in the vast majority of instances, sold away to the New World. The 
kidnaper also was no respecter of persons; one of the reasons why 
this technique was so feared was that it took its heaviest toll from 
the most defenseless, the young folk. How vivid the remembrance 
of these depredations remains even at the present time in West 
Africa is evidenced by the ability of a Togoland native, living in 



ENSLAVEMENT AND THE REACTION TO SLAVE STATUS 109 

Dahomey, to give a clear account of their consequences for his 
family. The people of this man had fled before the Ashanti, after a 
war in which many of his ancestral relatives had been lost in battle, 
either killed or carried off into captivity. Later, when a new home 
had been established, they had once more to migrate eastwards, for 
their enemies still raided them. Finally there was nothing to do but 
to put up such resistance as well as they could : 

People we call Aguda [Portuguese], they buy plenty. If they buy 
they put for ship. That time no steamer. If man go out, man who be 
strong catch him go sell. My grandfather he say Aguda buy we people 
in Popo, then take go 'way to place they now calls Freetown. Aguda 
make village there, then make we people born children. When children 
born, Aguda take away to sell. 61 

The hypothesis that the selective character of the slave trade oper- 
ated to bring the least desirable elements of Africa to the New World 
is thus neither validated by the reports of those who wrote during 
the days of the trade nor by the traditions of slaving held in the area 
where it was most intensive. That debtors were enslaved means 
nothing in terms of selectivity for, as was the case with white 
debtors, deportation merely acted to rid a country of persons lacking 
financial responsibility. Criminals likewise constituted a class deter- 
mined by arbitrary definition, set up here as in every culture; it is 
to be doubted whether in West Africa, any more than in Europe, 
an inherent tendency to depravity can be ascribed to those who were 
deported because of their crimes. All agree, moreover, that debtors 
and criminals were but a small proportion of the cargoes of the slav- 
ing vessels, which means that the dominant factors were nonselec- 
tive warfare and kidnaping. And though it may be maintained 
that those Africans who were most able escaped in warfare, this 
point would be highly difficult to establish; while it would be even 
more difficult to prove that those kidnaped were possessed of any 
particular incapacity. 



Chapter V 
THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 



In considering the accommodation of Africans to their New World 
cultural milieu, differentials in the degree of contact between bearers 
of European and African traditions have often been recognized, 
even though most students of the Negro, in the United States at 
least, tend to limit their researches to the borders of their own coun- 
try. Yet such attention as they have paid to other parts of the New 
World has made it plain that Africanisms have not survived to the 
same degree everywhere in the area. An example of this may be taken 
from a passage in the most recent work of Frazier, who, as will be 
remembered, completely rejects the thesis that any elements of 
African culture are to be found in the United States: 

Recent students . . . have been able to trace many words in the lan- 
guage of Negroes in the West Indies, Suriname, and Brazil to their 
African sources. There is also impressive evidence of the fact that, in 
the West Indies and in parts of South America, African culture still 
survives in the religious practices, funeral festivals, folklore, and dances 
of the transplanted Negroes. . . . Even today it appears that the 
African pattern of family life is perpetuated in the s patriarchal family 
organization of the West Indian Negroes. 1 

Quotations from the writings of Weatherly, Park and Renter to 
similar effect, given in the first chapter of this work will also be 
recalled. 2 

A second factor influencing acculturation, the situations under 
which certain types of slaves had greater opportunity for contact 
with their masters than others, has received more study. This point 
of attack has been most sharply defined in studies of slavery in the 
United States. On analysis, the approach is seen to be based on the 
"plantation portrait" that has played so large a role in shaping con- 
cepts not only of the institution of slavery, but also of the ante- 
bellum South in general. Most often, this differentiation takes the 
form of contrasting the intimacies of the relation between house 

no 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS in 

servants and their masters to the slight contact and lack of personal 
feeling between the mass of rude field hands and their owners or 
overseers. In considering this phase of the problem, we are there- 
fore dealing with a stereotype which causes the dichotomy between 
the two groups customarily to be taken for granted. 

The third point to be considered concerns the manner in which the 
slaves accommodated themselves differently to various aspects of 
the European culture they encountered. Here we are breaking new 
ground, since few if any studies have even envisaged this approach. 
Yet it is important if the situation is to be analyzed adequately. For 
as has been indicated previously, and as will later be demonstrated 
in detail, an outstanding fact of New World Negro culture is that 
nowhere do Africanisms manifest themselves to the same degree 
in the several parts into which any human culture can be divided. It 
soon becomes apparent that, while Africanisms in material aspects 
of life are almost lacking, and in political organization are so 
warped that resemblances are discernible only on close analysis, 
African religious practices and magical beliefs are everywhere to be 
found in some measure as recognizable survivals, and are in every 
region more numerous than survivals in the other realms of culture. 
With these three phases of the problem in mind, then, we may 
turn to a consideration of the acculturative mechanisms which en- 
dowed New World Negro tradition with the forms it was later to 
take. This can best be clone by analyzing the interracial situation as 
it existed during the period of slavery, leaving to succeeding chap- 
ters the documentation of Africanisms found in Negro culture 
today. 



What caused the differences between the several parts of the New 
World in retention of African custom? Though the answer can 
only be sketched, especially since adequate historical analysis of the 
data concerning plantation life outside continental North America 
and Brazil is quite lacking, yet the effective factors are discernible. 
They were four in number : climate and topography ; the organiza- 
tion and operation of the plantations; the numerical ratios of 
Negroes to whites; and the extent to which the contacts between 
Negroes and whites in a given area took place in a rural or urban 
setting. 

It is patent that the natural environment influenced the life led 
by various communities of slaves in the New World. Negroes 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 113 

petuated this heritage to a far greater extent than where numbers 
were smaller and major adjustments to an almost completely strange 
environment were essential if the slave was to achieve even a per- 
sonal survival. 

The importance of the environment in furthering the success of 
slave revolts, or in aiding the masters to suppress uprisings and to 
capture runaway slaves, is in itself of some moment. Thus, as a 
simple example, it is clear that individual escapes were more likely 
to be made good where natural obstacles to pursuit were the most 
severe ; in the United States, swamps always invited running away, 
permitting the slave a measure of protection from his pursuers that 
open country could never have afforded him. In the tropics, dense 
jungles aided revolters, both because of the similarity between the 
conditions of life the runaways had to meet in these forests and 
the setting of their lives in Africa and because of the difficulties 
they presented to Europeans who were tempted to track the fugi- 
tives through the high bush. 

Mountainous country, and other natural aids to concealment where 
escaped slaves did not have adequate weapons, or regions which were 
of strategic importance when they were armed, must likewise not be 
undervalued. For everywhere in the New World where slave revolts 
were successful, the Negroes had the jungle or the mountains, or 
both, as a refuge, wherein they might establish and consolidate their 
autonomous communities. This was true in Guiana, in Haiti, in 
Brazil, in Jamaica; it is striking that in smaller, less heavily forested 
islands such as Barbados, St. Vincent, and the Virgin Islands, or 
in the United States (with the one exception of the Maroons of 
Florida, whose salvation lay in their joining the Indians rather than 
through their own unaided efforts), serious revolts were put down. 
And since escape in numbers invariably meant the preservation of 
Africanisms in greater quantity and purer form than was otherwise 
possible, particularly where the revolts came early in the history of 
slaving, as in Brazil, or where, as in Guiana and Haiti, continuous 
recruitment through raids on the plantations brought a constant 
supply of newcomers fresh from Africa into the communities of 
the revolters, the significance of this as influencing the acculturative 
process is clear. 

The manner in which the plantations were organized and oper- 
ated was, in the main, similar in all the New World. This is under- 
standable, if only because the system of slavery was everywhere 
oriented toward producing for the world market ; which means that 
unskilled labor had to be directed toward growing the principal crop 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 113 

petuated this heritage to a far greater extent than where numbers 
were smaller and major adjustments to an almost completely strange 
environment were essential if the slave was to achieve even a per- 
sonal survival. 

The importance of the environment in furthering the success of 
slave revolts, or in aiding the masters to suppress uprisings and to 
capture runaway slaves, is in itself of some moment. Thus, as a 
simple example, it is clear that individual escapes were more likely 
to be made good where natural obstacles to pursuit were the most 
severe; in the United States, swamps always invited running away, 
permitting the slave a measure of protection from his pursuers that 
open country could never have afforded him. In the tropics, dense 
jungles aided revolters, both because of the similarity between the 
conditions of life the runaways had to meet in these forests and 
the setting of their lives in Africa and because of the difficulties 
they presented to Europeans who were tempted to track the fugi- 
tives through the high bush. 

Mountainous country, and other natural aids to concealment where 
escaped slaves did not have adequate weapons, or regions which were 
of strategic importance when they were armed, must likewise not be 
undervalued. For everywhere in the New World where slave revolts 
were successful, the Negroes had the jungle or the mountains, or 
both, as a refuge, wherein they might establish and consolidate their 
autonomous communities. This was true in Guiana, in Haiti, in 
Brazil, in Jamaica; it is striking that in smaller, less heavily forested 
islands such as Barbados, St. Vincent, and the Virgin Islands, or 
in the United States (with the one exception of the Maroons of 
Florida, whose salvation lay in their joining the Indians rather than 
through their own unaided efforts), serious revolts were put down. 
And since escape in numbers invariably meant the preservation of 
Africanisms in greater quantity and purer form than was otherwise 
possible, particularly where the revolts came early in the history of 
slaving, as in Brazil, or where, as in Guiana and Haiti, continuous 
recruitment through raids on the plantations brought a constant 
supply of newcomers fresh from Africa into the communities of 
the revolters, the significance of this as influencing the acculturative 
process is clear. 

The manner in which the plantations were organized and oper- 
ated was, in the main, similar in all the New World. This is under- 
standable, if only because the system of slavery was everywhere 
oriented toward producing for the world market ; which means that 
unskilled labor had to be directed toward growing the principal crop 



U4 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

in which the plantations of a given area specialized. Sugar in the 
West Indies and South America and cotton in the United States were 
most important, but some plantations and some regions were de- 
voted to growing other major crops, such as coffee and tobacco and 
rice and indigo. The routine of work varied from region to region, 
but everywhere processes were simplified so as to restrict the number 
of operations. Fields had to be prepared before planting, either by 
breaking in virgin land or working over land cultivated the preced- 
ing season. Planting, hoeing, and reaping made up the second stage, 
while preparation of the product for the market was the final step. 
In the case of cotton, this last step required ginning and baling; 
on the sugar plantations, boiling and cooling of the sirup and re- 
fining the crystals was necessary. Some slaves had to be trained to 
perform such special tasks, but everywhere careful and constant 
supervision assured that all aspects of the work went forward, the 
white overseers being assisted by slaves who were charged with 
supervising the labor of a smaller group than the white superintend- 
ent could effectively control. 

There were historical as well as economic reasons why the plan- 
tation system was so unified. Contacts between the various parts of 
the entire New World were continuous, and the manner in which 
work was done in one region influenced the mode of operations in 
another. Thus, it is pointed out : 

Planters coming to South Carolina from Barbados, Jamaica, Antigua, 
and St. Kitts brought with them the ideas of the plantation regime with 
slavery as the basis of the labor system. 3 

Similarly, French colonists fleeing the slave revolts of Haiti brought 
their ways of working their slaves as well as the slaves themselves 
to Louisiana, while, in the opposite direction, the Tory sympathizers 
for whom the American Revolution was unpalatable moved their 
establishments to the Bahamas and elsewhere in the British West 
Indies. But these were only a few of the unifying movements. The 
Jews, expelled from Brazil in the seventeenth century, moved to 
Dutch Guiana and Curaqao with their slaves, setting up new estates 
in these Dutch colonies; the settling of Trinidad by planters from 
neighboring French, English, and Spanish possessions fixed the 
plantation economy firmly on that island. In consequence, an under- 
lying unity, the result of historical and economic forces, developed 
in the New World as a background for Negro acculturation to 
European patterns. 

The frequency with which slaves were trained as specialists on 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 115 

plantations in the various parts of the New World differed greatly, 
but it must be assumed that wherever large numbers of ^ ves were 
employed, certain individuals were assigned to what may be termed 
the service of supply. Carpenters, blacksmiths, and others who could 
repair broken implements were essential; some had to be entrusted 
with the care of infants where mothers with young children were 
put to work in the fields; while specialists were required to handle 
the apparatus used in preparing the plantation produce for the mar- 
ket, particularly on the sugar estates. House and personal servants 
of the masters must also be included, though their numbers, duties, 
and manner of selection varied. 

It does not follow, however, that the training of those who oper- 
ated and repaired sugar mills, or acted as house servants, or other- 
wise followed a routine different from that of the great body of 
field hands was in itself sufficient to cause them to give up their 
African modes of thought or behavior. Though greater personal 
contact with the masters was the direct route to greater taking over 
of European modes of behavior, the manner of life led by the 
whites, certainly in the West Indies, was not such as to inculcate 
either love or respect for it on the part of those who viewed it clos- 
est. Furthermore, in all the slaving area, the slaves closest to the 
masters were those most exposed to their caprice ; and the situation 
of the house slave, if not involving as hard and continuous physical 
labor as that required of the ordinary field hand, had serious draw- 
backs in the constant exposure to the severe punishment that followed 
even unwitting conduct that displeased the ever-present masters. 

It has already been remarked how, in the United States, many of 
the slaves aided by the underground railroad had had the greatest 
opportunities to learn the white man's way of life; and in the case 
of such as these, acculturation to European patterns had proceeded 
far. But in the West Indies and South America, it was in many 
instances just those experiencing the closest contact with the whites 
who steadfastly refused to continue in this way of life when free- 
dom could be attained through manumission or self-purchase or es- 
cape. On the basis of studies made in the United States, it is gener- 
ally held that European habits were most prevalent among the free 
Negroes. Yet though this may be true of the United States and 
further research by students with adequate background of West 
African and West Indian Negro cultures must precede any final 
word on the point in the rest of the New World it by no means 
follows. Thus, in Brazil, it was just among those Negroes who, 
either for the account of their owners or because they had pur- 



n6 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

chased their own freedom, followed specialized callings, that the 
stream of African tradition was kept free-flowing to reach in rela- 
tively undiluted form to the present day. 4 In Haiti, again, it was 
those who had had considerable opportunity to acquaint themselves 
with European methods of life and warfare who were prominent 
among the leaders of the most successful slave revolts. 

The ratio between Negroes and whites must be kept in mind 
when attempting to assess the mechanisms of accommodation. Ac- 
culturation, it must be remembered, occurs as a result of contact, 
and it is the continuing nature of the contact and the opportunities 
for exposure to new modes of life that determine the type and in- 
tensity of the syncretisms which constitute the eventual patternings 
of the resulting cultural orientations. That racial ratios varied greatly 
in various parts of the New World must be taken into account; even 
in the United States the differences in the numbers of whites and 
Negroes from one portion of the slave belt to another were so strik- 
ing that they attracted the attention of contemporary observers no 
less than of present-day students. 

Bassett, for example, phrases this in the following terms : 

The planters, that is the owners of large farms, were but a small part 
of the white people of the old South. The great mass were small farmers, 
owners of small groups of slaves or of none at all, men who had land 
and lived independently without leisure, education, or more than simple 
comforts. ... It was from this class of small farmer that the overseer 
came. He was often a man whose father had a few slaves, or some am- 
bitious farmer youth who had set his eyes upon becoming a planter and 
began to "manage," as the term was, a stepping-stone to proprietorship 
in the end. 5 

The analysis made by Gaines of American literature dealing with 
the South, as it reflects and distorts the social realities of the slav- 
ing period, leads him to the following conclusion : 

One of the most common misrepresentations is in the matter of the 
size of estates. Almost unfailingly the romancers assume a great realm 
bounded only "by blue horizon walls." There were, as a matter of fact, 
some large holdings . . . but colossal estates were the exception, not 
the rule. Over certain zones, as most of North Carolina and Georgia, 
there were few big places. Page justly affirms that the average Southern 
estate was small, and few Southerners owned negroes, that most of these 
possessed but a small number. 6 

Statistics of Negroes and whites in Maryland reflect opportunities 
for contact, and the resultant possibilities for taking over European 
modes of life by Negroes : 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 117 

The Governor of Maryland wrote, in 1708, that the trade had been 
rising and was then a "high" one ; that some six or seven hundred blacks 
had been imported in the ten months past. Two years later, came word 
that the negroes were increasing. The Public Record Office in London 
had a list of the "Christian'* men, women and children and also of negro 
slaves, in Maryland, in 1712. The whites numbered nearly thirty-eight 
thousand, the negroes over eight thousand. In three of the Southern 
counties, the blacks far outnumbered the whites. In the years following, 
both races increased fast, but the blacks faster than the whites. By 1750, 
the whites may have been nearly a hundred thousand, the blacks nearly 
forty thousand. In 1790, there were over two hundred and eighty thou- 
sand whites, and nearly half as many slaves ; the eight thousand and odd 
free blacks making the proportion of white to black as less than two 
to one. 7 

The Carolinas have likewise been subjected to careful study from 
this point of view, and are especially pertinent to our inquiry because 
of the variation from one district to another in the proportion be- 
tween masters and slaves. The fact that some of the most extensive 
retention of Africanisms in all the United States is found in the Sea 
Islands may be coupled with the following statements in pointing a 
conclusion as to causation. In the first place, we are informed that : 

On St. Helena Island, where there were some two thousand slaves to 
a little more than two hundred whites, the Negroes learned very slowly 
the ways of the whites. Their mastery of English was far less advanced 
than that of the Piedmont slaves. They spoke a garbled English, imper- 
fect words and expressions which they and their parents and grand- 
parents had learned from the few whites with whom they came in 
contact. 8 

The statement of a slaveowner of the region throws further light 
on the process involved : 

A Charleston planter told his English guest, Captain Basil Hall, in 
1827, that he made no attempt to regulate the habits and morals of his 
people except in matters of police, "We don't care what they do when 
their tasks are over we lose sight of them till the next day/' he said. 9 

The sense of these regional differences for North Carolina in gen- 
eral was expressed in language such as the following : 



The Carolina Cultivator divided North Carolina farmers in 1855 i 
"two well-known classes." One class owned slaves who were "ragged, 
filthy, and thievish" ; the other, slaves who were well clothed, fed, and 
housed, cheerful, industrious, arid contented. 10 



n8 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Statistically, this is represented by numbers of slaves owned on the 
great estates and smaller farms : 

While the average number of slaves per slaveholding family in North 
Carolina seemed high, it must be pointed out that more than half, 67 
per cent, of these families held less than ten slaves. The large slave- 
holders, those few who owned from 50 to 200 slaves, give color to the 
picture of ante-bellum North Carolina, but the small slaveholders actu- 
ally shaped the character of slavery in the state because they were in the 
majority. Equally important . . . were the families, 72 per cent of the 
total in 1860, who owned no slaves. 11 

The most extended discussion of slave ownership is that of Phil- 
lips. By 1671 the population of Virginia, he tells us, was estimated 
at 40,000, including 6,000 white servants and 2,000 Negro slaves. 12 
These proportions changed rapidly, as shown by a census taken in 
"certain Virginia counties" during 1782-1783 which enumerated the 
numbers of slaves owned in the Tidewater and lower Piedmont 
regions : 

For each of their citizens, fifteen altogether, who held upwards of 
one hundred slaves, there were approximately three who had from 50 to 
99 ; seven with from 30 to 49 ; thirteen with from 20 to 29 ; forty with 
from 10 to 19; forty with from 5 to 9; seventy with from i to 4; and 
sixty who had none. 13 

At the end of the slaving period, the "greatest of the tobacco 
planters" was reported in 1854 to have slave populations of some 
1, 600 individuals in his "many plantations lying in the upper Pied- 
mont on both sides of the Virginia-North Carolina boundary." 14 
In Maryland, 

... the ratios among the slaveholdings of the several scales, according 
to the United States census of 1790, were almost identical with those 
just noted in the selected Virginia counties. ... In all these Virginia 
and Maryland counties the average holding ranged between 8.5 and 13 
slaves. In the other districts in both commonwealths, where the planta- 
tion system was not so dominant, the average slaveholding was smaller, 
of course, and the non-slaveholders more abounding. 15 

In South Carolina, the concentration of slaves was somewhat higher, 
as might have been expected, though not so great as is ordinarily 
thought : 

In the four South Carolina parishes of St. Andrew's, St. John's 
Colleton, St. Paul's and St. Stephen's the census-takers of 1790 found 
393 slaveholders with an average of 33.7 slaves each, as compared with 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 119 

a total of 28 non-slaveholding families. In these and seven more parishes, 
comprising together the rural portion of the area known politically as 
the Charleston District, there were among the 1643 heads of families 
1318 slaveholders owning 42,949 slaves. . . . Altogether there were 79 
separate parcels of a hundred slaves or more, 156 of between fifty and 
ninety-nine, 318 of between twenty and forty-nine, 251 of between ten 
and nineteen, 206 of between five and nine, and 209 of from two to four, 
96 of one slave each, and 3 whose returns in the slave column are 
illegible. 16 

The contemporary comment of Sir Charles Lyell, though couched 
in the style of the period, is germane : 

When conversing with different planters here, in regard to the capa- 
bilities and future progress of the black population, I find them to agree 
very generally that in this part of Georgia they appear under a great 
disadvantage. In St. Simon's island, it is admitted, that the negroes on 
the smaller estates are more civilized than on the larger properties, be- 
cause they associate with a greater proportion of whites. In Glynn 
County, where we are now residing, there are no less than 4,000 negroes 
to 700 whites; whereas in Georgia generally there are only 281,000 
slaves in a population of 691,000, or more whites than colored people. 
Throughout the upper country there is a large preponderance of Anglo- 
Saxons, and a little reflection will satisfy the reader how much the edu- 
cation of a race which starts originally from so low a stage of intellectual, 
social, moral and spiritual development, as the African negro, must de- 
pend not on learning to read and write, but on the amount of familiar 
intercourse which they enjoy with individuals of a more advanced race. 
So long as they herd together in large gangs, and rarely come into con- 
tact with any whites save their owner and overseer, they can profit little 
by their imitative faculty, and can not even make much progress in 
mastering the English language. . . , 17 

For Alabama, the situation has been summarized as follows: 

The cotton counties were the chief slave counties and are conse- 
quently the plantation counties. They are Dallas, Marengo, Greene, 
Sumter Lowndes, Macon and Montgomery. Sections of the state, poorer 
as well as less adapted to cotton cultivation, had an average of 1.4 slaves 
to the household. Madison County in the northern part of the state, actu- 
ally had over two families to each slave. The average number of slaves 
per plantation for the state was 4.5. However, in the cotton counties the 
large plantations set the prevailing patterns. In 1805 there were 790 
owners of from 30 to 70 slaves ; 550 owners with from 70 to 100 slaves; 
312 with from 100 to 200; 24 with from 200 to 300 and 10 with from 
300 to 500. Thus, some 150,000 slaves were on plantations of 50 or 
more even though only a third of the white people were directly inter- 
ested in slavery. 18 



I2O THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Phillips, though not directly concerned with the mechanisms of 
acculturation, has given a useful summary of the matter as con- 
cerns the United States in general : 

It is regrettable that data descriptive of small plantations and farms 
are very scant. Such documents as exist point unmistakably to informal- 
ity of control and intimacy of black and white personnel on such units. 
This is highly important in its bearing upon race relations, for according 
to the census of 1860, for example, one- fourth of all the slaves in the 
United States were held in parcels of less than ten slaves each, and 
nearly another fourth in parcels of from ten to twenty slaves. This means 
that about one-half of the slaves had a distinct facilitation in obtaining 
an appreciable share in the social heritage of their masters . . . the 
very fact that the negroes were slaves linked them as a whole more 
closely to the whites than any scheme of wage-labor could well have 
done. 19 

The contact between Negroes and whites in continental United 
States as compared to the West Indies and South America goes far 
to explain the relatively greater incidence of Africanisms in the 
Caribbean. In the earliest days, the number of slaves in proportion 
to their masters was extremely small, and though as time went on 
thousands and tens of thousands of slaves were brought to satisfy 
the demands of the southern plantations, nonetheless the Negroes 
lived in constant association with whites to a degree not found any- 
where else in the New World. That the Sea Islands of the Carolina 
and Georgia coast offer the most striking retention of Africanisms 
to be encountered in the United States is to be regarded as but a 
reflection of the isolation of these Negroes when compared to those 
on the mainland. 

Certainly the opportunity of the slave who was the sole human 
possession of his master to carry on African traditions was of the 
slightest, no matter how convinced such a Negro might have been 
that this was a desirable end. Even where the slaves on a farm 
numbered ten or fifteen, it was difficult to achieve continuity of 
aboriginal behavior. Unless such a group was in the midst of a 
thickly settled area, which could afford them constant contacts with 
other slaves, it would be well-nigh impossible for them to live ac- 
cording to the dictates of a tradition based on large numbers of 
closely knit relationship groupings organized into complex economic 
and political structures. How might the specialists in technology, in 
magic, in manipulating the supernatural powers carry on their work 
among such small groups existing, as these had to exist, under the 
close scrutiny and constant supervision of the slaveowners? 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 121 

Matters were quite different in the Caribbean islands and in South 
America. Here racial numbers were far more disproportionate; es- 
tates where a single family ruled dozens, if not hundreds, of slaves 
were commonplace and the "poor white" was found so seldom that 
he receives only cursory mention even in such meticulous historical 
treatments as those of the French scholars concerned with social 
conditions, economic status, and political developments of pre- 
revolutionary Haiti. The white man with but a few slaves was like- 
wise seldom encountered. The requirement of conformity to the 
plantation system was far more stringent than in the United States, 
where a certain degree of economic self-sufficiency was sought after, 
no matter to what extent the raising of a single cash crop was the 
major objective. The territory itself liable for exploitation on the 
mainland was almost literally without limit, and the constant migra- 
tion of the planters and their slaves to the west made for the growth 
of population centers and the development of means of communica- 
tion that made the type of isolation experienced by West Indies and 
South American planters a rarity. A passage such as the following, 
taken from the letter of a Haitian planter, describes a situation quite 
foreign to the experience of the southern slaveholder : 

Have pity for an existence which must be eked out far from the world 
of our own people. We here number five whites, my father, my mother, 
my two brothers, and myself, surrounded by more than two hundred 
slaves, tbe number of our negroes who are domestics alone coming al- 
most to thirty. From morning to night, wherever we turn, their faces 
meet our eyes. No matter bow early we awaken, they are at our bed- 
sides, and the custom which obtains here not to make the least move 
without the help of one of these negro servants brings it about not 
only that we live in their society the greater portion of the day, but 
also that they are involved in the least important events of our daily 
life. Should we go outside our house to the workshops, we are still 
subject to this strange propinquity. Add to this the fact that our con- 
versation has almost entirely to do with the health of our slaves, their 
needs which must be cared for, the manner in which they are to be 
distributed about the estate, and their attempts to revolt, and you will 
come to understand that our entire life is so closely identified with that 
of these unfortunates that, in the end, it is the same as theirs. And 
despite whatever pleasure may come from that almost absolute domi- 
nance which it is given us to exercise over them, what regrets do not 
assail us daily because of our inability to have contact and correspond- 
ence with others than these unfortunates, so far removed from us in 
point of view, customs, and education. 20 

Plantation owners in the Caribbean islands and in North America 



122 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

differed in attitude, primary affiliation, and adjustment. Where the 
setting was as strange to Europeans as was the tropics, thought per- 
sistently turned to the homeland; in the United States, the life of a 
planter, who regarded himself as permanently settled on his planta- 
tion, took on more normal routines. The influence of such orienta- 
tions on the Negroes in terms of affording opportunities for accul- 
turation is apparent. Closer contact with the whites in the United 
States made for greater familiarity with white customs and facili- 
tated their incorporation into Negro behavior; nothing coulcl con- 
trast more to this than the situation as it affected the slaves where 
greater numbers of Negroes lived a life on the estates which re- 
moved them from their masters far more than on the North Amer- 
ican continent. Consequently, one can set off the United States from 
the rest of the New World as a region where departure from Afri- 
can modes of life was greatest, and where such Africanisms as per- 
sisted were carried through in generalized form, almost never di- 
rectly referable to a specific tribe or a definite area. 

The matter of urban and rural residence of the slaves is closely 
related to the point just considered. Information is much less avail- 
able on this than are data concerning ratios between Negroes and 
whites in general ; yet the situation can be broadly summarized as it 
encouraged or hindered intensity and speed in acculturation, and 
thus contributed to the differences in Negro behavior both within 
and between various regions. 

The urban centers of the United States were more numerous and 
of greater size than anywhere else in the New World. Only Brazil 
approaches the United States in this respect. In the slaving area of 
northern South America, one finds Paramaribo in Dutch Guiana 
and Georgetown in British Guiana, both but small towns when com- 
pared to the cities at the extremities of the New World slaving belt. 
The coastal towns of Venezuela had considerable Negro popula- 
tions; for the rest of the Latin-American republics our information 
is so scanty that nothing can be said. In the Caribbean islands, such 
centers as existed were at best but settlements where planters might 
have establishments to spend their time when not in residence on 
their estates, or when business brought them to these seaports. Port- 
of-Spain, Trinidad, was during the entire period of slavery but a 
small town, located on an island where, in any event, slavery had 
a secondary place in the economic life. Bridgetown, Barbados, was 
somewhat larger, but has always been an administrative and ship- 
ping center. The islands of the Windward and Leeward chains, them- 
selves minute, could support no settlements of any size; hence even 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 123 

for small cities in the Caribbean we must turn to Cuba, Jamaica, 
Haiti, and perhaps Puerto Rico and Martinique. 

This meager list is to be contrasted to the centers of considerable 
size in the United States, in many of which Negroes had numerous 
opportunities for contact with whites. In the North were Boston, 
New York, and Philadelphia, all possessing appreciable Negro popu- 
lations from relatively early days of the slave trade. Besides these 
northern centers were many smaller towns, such as Albany and Jer- 
sey City and Fall River, whose Negro populations in the aggregate 
were large enough to make them a real influence in bringing the 
customs of the white man to the Negro community as a whole. On 
the borderline between slave and free states were Washington, Bal- 
timore, and farther west, Cincinnati and Louisville, whose large 
Negro groups were in constant contact with the much greater num- 
bers of whites among whom they lived, and lacked both the motiva- 
tion and opportunity of living in terms of a peculiar pattern such 
as did the Negroes of Brazilian or West Indian communities. 
Finally, there were many centers in the South itself where Negroes 
and whites had close association. Richmond, Charleston, and At- 
lanta, to the east, and New Orleans, to the west, are but the out- 
standing example of cities whose smaller counterparts existed else- 
where in the South. 

Life in all these communities differed strikingly from that in cen- 
ters outside the United States. The householders of these cities were 
permanently established ; their dwellings thus being in no sense resi- 
dences to be occupied only during certain portions of the year, or 
mere stopping places when business brought a planter to town. The 
southern plantation owner lived on his estate, and his contacts with 
the city, except for visits to friends, were brief and infrequent. The 
transfer of slaves from country to town and back again to the 
country with the travels of the master, as was common in the islands, 
was much rarer on the continent, if it occurred at all; which means 
that in the United States the town Negro was a permanent resident, 
something that in turn made for a sharper differentiation between 
him and the rural slave than elsewhere. In the North, of course, 
where no plantations existed, slave-owning was practiced on only a 
small scale. This in itself affected the acculturation of the northern 
Negro, for whether in town or country, the relatively slight number 
of slaves, or of freedmen after slavery was outlawed in the North, 
made it inevitable that Negroes everywhere experienced much more 
intensive exposure to European patterns of behavior than in any 
other part of the New World. 



124 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

It is important, however, in considering how urbanism affected 
the acculturative processes, to refrain from making any a priori 
assumptions. In cities the Negroes led a life of their own, and just 
because their opportunities for contact with the whites were greater 
than on isolated plantations, this does not necessarily mean that they 
followed the leacj to behavior placed before them. What is the more 
likely is that, where retention of Africanisms or adoption of Euro- 
pean customs is concerned, cither or both were accelerated. Popular 
belief holds it almost as an axiom that to find aboriginal custom in 
its purest form one must go to the most remote districts; though 
this may be to a certain extent true, it is by no means an acceptable 
generalization. The Bush Negroes of the Guiana forests manifest 
African culture in purer form than is to be encountered anywhere 
else outside Africa, yet in such centers as Bahia especially in the 
Negro quarters on the outskirts of the city or Paramaribo or Port- 
of-Spain one also finds retentions of a surprising degree of purity. 
Puckett has put the matter similarly for the United States : 

Even today almost three-fourths of the Southern Negroes live in a 
rural environment, and in this relative isolation the more primitive type 
of superstitions are generally preserved more easily than in an environ- 
ment where outside contact is greater. That this is not always true is 
shown by the apparently greater prevalence of superstition with the New 
Orleans city Negro as compared with many of his rural kinsmen a fact 
probably accounted for by the voodoo traditions of that city and the 
more frequent interchange of such ideas through a multitude of people 
all clinging to the same old beliefs. 21 

Certainly the anonymity of city life is often conducive to carrying 
on outlawed customs and beliefs when they can be quietly pursued, 
or to furthering activities under a ban in disguised form. Even were 
this not the case, an important economic factor, almost entirely 
neglected, would come into play. Where the more dramatic African 
survivals, such as possession dances and other manifestations of 
religious belief and of magic, are concerned, it is essential that 
enough wealth be at hand to allow adequate support for the special- 
ists who direct these rites and control the supernatural powers. This 
is strikingly exemplified by the situation in Trinidad, \vhere the rites 
of the Yoruban Shango sect can only be found on the outskirts of 
the capital and principal seaport, Port-of-Spain. In the interior this 
cult is entirely absent. Folk living there are vague about its ritual or 
beliefs, because in these outlying districts there are not enough per- 
sons or enough wealth to support the extensive ceremonies. Anal- 
ogous is the case of the "shouting" churches of the United States, 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 125 

where the forms of spirit possession represent one of the most direct 
African carry-overs to be encountered in this country. Though 
churches of this kind are numerous in the South, if one wishes to 
hear the "hottest" preaching and to witness the greatest outbursts 
of hysteria one must go to such great Negro centers as New York 
or Chicago or Detroit. Good preachers are in demand and, in ac- 
cordance with the economic pattern of our culture, they accept calls 
where their services can be most adequately compensated. In the 
South, by and large, except the most populous Negro communities, 
congregations cannot meet the terms offered by the richer churches 
of the North. 

It is thus unjustifiable to make the assumption that mere contact, 
such as was engendered by city life, brought about the suppression of 
Africanisms. That it discouraged their retention in pure 'form is 
undoubtedly true; yet this does not mean that white patterns were 
taken over without serious revision. Rather, it means that rural and 
urban Negro cultures took on somewhat different shadings ; . that 
the impact of European custom on African aboriginal traditional 
values and modes of behavior was directed along divergent courses. 
And hence it is that, while Africanisms are to be found both in 
cities and in the countryside all over the New World, they differ in 
intensity and in the specific forms they take. 



The difference in the opportunities afforded various types of 
slaves to acquaint themselves with the behavior of their masters 
and model their own conduct in terms of these conventions is the 
second point to be considered in analyzing the acculturative process. 
As has been stated, the assumption that significant differences ex- 
isted between the manner of life and treatment of the house servant 
and the field hand is widely held. One of the reasons frequently ad- 
vanced for this is a presumed difference in color between these two 
groups. It is therefore necessary at the outset to enter a ^caveat 
against injecting any such biological explanation into the analysis 
of a situation that can be accounted for adequately on the historical 
and cultural level. 

That color differences play a role of some importance within the 
Negro community is well knoun, and has been demonstrated as 
important in the selection of mates, where it follows a well-defined 
pattern whereby lighter-colored women tend to marry darker-colored 
men. 22 Two possible explanations of this can be offered that high- 



126 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

light the difficulty arising when the presumed differences between 
house servants and field hands during slavery are referred to, or 
correlated with, the biological fact of color. One explanation, essen- 
tially psychological, rests its argument on the tendency of any under- 
privileged minority to set up desired goals in accord with some out- 
standing characteristic of the dominant population among whom it 
lives; in the case of the Negroes, an absence of heavy pigmenta- 
tion. 23 The other explanation is concerned only with the historical 
experiences of the Negro since his arrival in North America. It 
holds that the lighter-colored Negro, today socially and economically 
more favorably situated than his darker brother, is the offspring of 
the white master; that he is the descendant of the manumitted 
mulatto, who, in his capacity as house servant or personal retainer, 
came into closest contact with the whites and thus achieved an earlier 
and more effective acculturation to the patterns of the majority 
group. 24 

It would not seem unreasonable to hold that both these explana- 
tions are pertinent, while recognizing that neither can account en- 
tirely for the facts as established. What must be guarded against in 
either case is that any explanation of such color differences as mark 
off present socio-economic groupings, or did mark them off in ear- 
lier times, be not drawn in terms of differing innate capacity, 
resulting from different degrees of racial crossing. To be specific, 
in the case at hand the prestige accorded lighter color by Negroes 
must not be interpreted as something indicating a recognition on 
their part of the superiority derived from the presence of " white 
blood." 

With this caution in mind, we may turn to the matter of differ- 
entials in opportunity for acquiring the culture of the whites ac- 
corded various types of slaves. The need for such an analysis be- 
comes apparent as one reexamines the literature with the accepted 
point of view in mind, since the distinctions drawn between the mode 
of life of house servant and field hand are not as apparent in the 
contemporary accounts as the stress laid on them by present-day 
writers might lead one to believe. The remarks of Phillips concern- 
ing the acculturative process during the early days of slavery are 
pertinent : 

... for two generations the negroes were few, they were employed 
alongside the white servants, and in many cases were members of their 
masters' households. They had by far the best opportunity which any 
of their race had been given in America to learn the white man's ways 
and to adjust the lines of their bondage in as pleasant places as possible. 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 127 

Their importation was, for the time, on but an experimental scale, and 
even their legal status was during the early decades indefinite. 25 

According to his summary, the differentation between slaves was 
not much greater in later times : 

The purposes and policies of the masters were fairly uniform, and in 
consequence the negroes, though with many variants, became largely 
standardized into the predominant plantation type. The traits which pre- 
vailed were an eagerness for society, music and merriment, a fondness 
for display whether of person, dress, vocabulary or emotion, a not 
flagrant sensuality, a receptiveness toward any religion whose exercises 
were exhilarating, a proneness to superstition, a courteous acceptance of 
subordination, an avidity for praise, a readiness for loyalty of a feudal 
sort, and last but not least, a healthy human repugnance toward over- 
work. 26 

Lyell did not find any great differences between the manner of 
life of slaves employed at various tasks on the larger plantations: 

The out-door laborers have separate houses provided for them ; even 
the domestic servants, except a few who are nurses to the white chil- 
dren, live apart from the great house an arrangement not always con- 
venient for the masters, as there is no one to answer the bell after a 
certain hour. 27 

Mrs. Smedes, whose book is almost a caricature of the "standard" 
idyl of slavery, tells a story which indicates that house servants did 
not always appreciate the opportunities of a presumably favored 
position : 

It may not be out of place to give an illustration of how one of the 
Burleigh servants carried her point over the heads of the white family. 
After the mistress had passed away, Alcey resolved that she would not 
cook any more, and she took her own way of getting assigned to field 
work. She systematically disobeyed orders and stole or destroyed the 
greater part of the provisions given to her for the table. No special 
notice was taken, so she resolved to show more plainly that she was tired 
of the kitchen. Instead of getting the chickens for the dinner from the 
coop, as usual, she unearthed from some corner an old hen that had been 
setting for six weeks, and served her up as fricassee ! We had company 
to dinner that day ; that would have deterred most of the servants, but 
not Alcey. She achieved her object, for she was sent to the field the next 
day. . . , 28 

Nor were mulatto offspring of the masters always given the favored 
treatment envisaged for them as members of the household: 

One might imagine, that the children of such connections, would fare 



128 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

better, in the hands of their masters, than other slaves. The rule is 
quite the other way ; and a very little reflection will satisfy the reader 
that such is the case. A man who will enslave his own blood, may not 
safely be relied on for magnanimity. Men do not love those who remind 
them of their sins unless they have a mind to repent and the mulatto 
child's face is a standing accusation against him who is master and father 
to the child. What is still worse, perhaps, such a child is a constant 
offense to the wife. She hates its very presence, and when a slave- 
holding woman hates, she wants not means to give that hate telling ef- 
fect. . . . Masters are frequently compelled to sell this class of their 
slaves, out of deference to the feelings of their white wives; ... it is 
often an act of humanity toward the slave-child to be thus removed from 
his merciless tormentors. 29 

A modern summary of the situation in South Carolina indicates how 
the common conception of distinctions made between the two classes 
of slaves tends to overlook the manner in which the task assigned a 
given slave, except in the largest establishments, was subject to 
change : 

On every plantation where there were more than twenty slaves at 
least one was set aside as a house servant. The very young and the old 
were usually engaged in the house, while the full "taskables" were more 
profitably employed in the field. For instance, the house servants on 
Henry C. Middleton's Weehaw plantation near Georgetown, South 
Carolina, were "a cook that is not a full task, a girl of twelve and a 
boy of fourteen." An old man was "stable boy" and coachman for the 
family and an old woman was gardener. Stephen A. Norfleet of Wood- 
bourne in Bertie County often put his house servants at other work 
during the rush season; and when his wife became ill in 1858, he em- 
ployed a white housekeeper. In some families, however, the household 
retinue was large: a cook and assistant, a butler in uniform, a parlor 
maid, a personal maid, a "boy" to serve the master, a nurse if there 
were children, a liveried coachman, a gardener, and a stable boy. 30 

Another reason why the difference in opportunities for accultura- 
tion between house servants and field hands was not as great as is 
supposed is found in the accounts of the life of Negro children 
during their early, most formative years. How similar were the 
early conditionings of all slave children may be inferred from this 
comment of a contemporary observer : 

It is a universal custom on the plantations of the South that while 
the slaves, men and women, are out at labor the children should all be 
collected at one place, under the care of one or two old women. I have 
sometimes seen as many as sixty or seventy, or even more together, and 
their guardians were a couple of old negro witches, who with a rod of 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 129 

reeds kept rule over these poor little black lambs, who with an un- 
mistakable expression of fear and horror shrunk back in crowds when- 
ever the threatening witches came forth flourishing their rods. On 
smaller plantations, where the number of children is smaller, and the 
female guardians gentle, the scene, of course, is not so repulsive; never- 
theless it always reminded me of a flock of sheep or swine, which were 
fed merely to make them ready for eating. 31 

It may, of course, be objected that descriptions of this sort concern 
precisely the children of field hands, while the offspring of house 
servants were cared for differently, being permitted to play about 
the great house and thus from their infancy imbibing the master's 
ways of life. In the light of the variations in handling the slaves that 
obtained over the entire slaving area of the United States, this un- 
doubtedly was true in many cases ; yet the passages cited in preced- 
ing pages would seem to indicate that such differentiation was far 
from universal. 

The number of estates that could support a trained retinue of 
house servants was relatively small, and it is thus likely, as Johnson 
indicates, that on the majority of those plantations where the 
Negroes were employed at housework, those too old or too young 
to work in the fields, or incapacitated for some other reason, were 
assigned to the task. And this being the case, it would not be sur- 
prising if the following description of table service in Jamaica was 
not closer in many cases to the North American reality than the tra- 
ditional liveried retainers and turbaned maids and cooks of the 
fabled "great house" : 

... it is very common to see black boys and girls, twelve or thirteen 
years of age, almost men and women, in nothing but a long shirt or shift, 
waiting at table; so little are the decencies of life observed toward 
them. 32 

Certainly on the smaller farms there was no dissimilarity in what- 
ever conditioning to white norms the young slaves might have ex- 
perienced from intimate association with their master or, what is 
more to the point, with their master's children. Lyell gives some in- 
dication of the reciprocal nature of this relationship, which, it must 
be pointed out, constitutes an element in the total acculturative situa- 
tion that has received far less attention than it deserves : 

In one family, I found that there were six white children and six 
blacks, of about the same age, and the negroes had been taught to read 
by their companions, the owner winking at this illegal proceeding, and 
seeming to think that such an acquisition would rather enhance the value 



130 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

of his slaves than otherwise. Unfortunately, the whites, in return, often 
learn from the negroes to speak broken English, and, in spite of losing 
much time in unlearning ungrammatical phrases, well-educated persons 
retain some of them all their lives. 33 

Another instance, where this same writer observed intimacy of 
contact between the young of both races, may be given: 

We were passing some cottages on the way-side, when a group of 
children rushed out, half of them white and half negro, shouting at the 
full stretch of their lungs, and making the driver fear that his horses 
would be scared. They were not only like children in other parts of the 
world, in their love of noise and mischief, but were evidently all asso- 
ciating on terms of equality, and had not yet found out that they be- 
longed to a different caste in society. 34 

It is also sometimes overlooked that in the early days of slavery, 
and in certain parts of the South at a relatively late date, field hands 
had opportunities to learn the ways of life of whites with whom they 
were associated in their jobs. Those whose conception of "culture" 
is not that of the scientific definition which comprises all aspects of 
behavior, but who use the term in an evaluative sense of signifying 
behavior approved by those of "gentler" origin, would perhaps feel 
that this type of association was of little advantage to the slave in 
exposing him to the "best" of European behavior. The following pas- 
sage, which refers to the earlier days of slavery, implies that Euro- 
pean influence was present when the initial patterns of Negro be- 
havior in this country were laid down : 

Side by side in the field, the white servant and the slave were en- 
gaged in planting, weeding, suckering, or cutting tobacco, or sat side by 
side in the barn manipulating the leaf in the course of preparing it for 
market, or plied their axes to the same trees in clearing away the forests 
to extend the new grounds. The same holidays were allowed to both, 
and doubtless, too, the same privilege of cultivating small patches of 
ground for their own private benefit. 35 

An instance can be given of how in later times, also, contacts on this 
level, though more restricted, took place more frequently than is 
customarily recognized : 

Yesterday I visited a coal-pit ; the majority of the mining laborers are 
slaves . . . but a considerable number of white hands are also employed, 
and they occupy all the responsible posts. . . . The white hands are 
mostly Englishmen or Welchmen. One of them, with whom I conversed, 
told me he had been here several years ... he was not contented, and 
did not intend to remain. On pressing him for the reason of his dis- 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 131 

content, he said, after some hesitation, that he had rather live where he 
could be more free ; a man had to be too "discreet" here. . . . Not long 
since, a young English fellow came to the pit, and was put to work along 
with a gang of negroes. One morning, about a week afterwards, twenty 
or thirty men called on him, and told him that they would allow him 
fifteen minutes to get out of sight, and if they ever saw him in those 
parts again, the> would "give him hell/ 1 . . . "But what had he done?" 
"Why, I believe they thought he had been too free with the niggers; he 
wasn't used to them, you see, sir, and he talked to 'em free like, and 
they thought he'd make 'em think too much of themselves." 36 

In another passage, Olmsted again indicates closeness of Negro- 
white contact on the humbler levels of white society: 

The more common sort of habitations of the white people are either 
of logs or loosely-boarded frame, a brick chimney running up outside, 
at one end ; everything very slovenly and dirty about them. Swine, fox- 
hounds, and black and white children, are commonly lying very promis- 
cuously together, on the ground about the doors. I am struck with the 
close co-habitation and association of black and white negro women are 
carrying black and white babies together in their arms ; black and white 
children are playing together (not going to school together) ; black and 
white faces constantly thrust together out of doors to see the train 
go by. 37 

In the preceding excerpts, the situations in the United States 
where contact between whites and Negroes occurred have been indi- 
cated, especially as regards the way in which differences in oppor- 
tunity to cope with European custom made for differences in rapid- 
ity of acculturation and the absorption of these new habits in 
customary behavior. We have also been concerned to discover to 
what extent the opportunities to learn and imitate white behavior 
were different for differing categories of slaves, or were spread 
evenly over the Negro population as a whole. This leaves us with 
a third point to be considered those mechanisms which, in the case 
of Negroes most exposed to white contact, permitted them to retain 
Africanisms. 

As with the other points raised, the data are scanty and scattered, 
and intensive research will be needed before such a question can be 
answered in any adequate measure. Nonetheless, hints in the litera- 
ture amply justify asking the question here. It is customarily as- 
sumed that during the "seasoning" process, whereby newly arrived 
Africans were taught the manner of life on the plantations, the 
scorn of the teachers for savage ways prevented any interchange 
that could have reinforced Africanisms present in the behavior of 



132 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

those in charge of the newcomers. Yet the relationship between 
Africans and their teachers, except as concerns plantation routine, 
has never been systematically studied. Such a quotation as the fol- 
lowing indicates the accepted treatment : 

Planters learned early in the use of slave labor that it was necessary 
to give certain trusted Negroes limited authority over the others so that 
with a change of overseers the plantation routine might be disturbed as 
little as possible. On the large plantations the seasoned Negroes trained 
the new ones and were responsible for their behavior. In the early days 
of the plantation regime, when a gang of fresh Africans were pur- 
chased, they were assigned in groups to certain reliable slaves who initi- 
ated them into the ways of the plantation. These drivers, as they were 
called, had the right of issuing or withholding rations to the raw re- 
cruits and of inflicting minor punishments. They taught the new slaves 
to speak the broken English which they knew and to do the plantation 
work which required little skill. ... At the end of a year, the master or 
overseer for the first time directed the work of the new Negro who now 
had become "tamed," assigning him to a special task of plantation work 
along with the other seasoned hands who had long since learned to obey 
orders, to arise when the conch blew at ''day clean," to handle a hoe in 
listing and banking, to stand still when a white man spoke. 38 

What magic formulae might not have been transmitted by these 
newly arrived Africans to a receptive ear? What discussions of 
world view might not have taken place in the long hours when 
teacher and pupil were together, reversing their roles when matters 
only dimly sensed by the American-born slave were explained in 
terms of African conventions he had never analyzed? Certainly 
during much of the slave period the masters did little to care for 
whatever needs their slaves might have had for instruction as to 
the nature of the world and the forces that actuate it ; the numerous 
complaints which the lack of adequate religious teaching for the 
slaves inspired in the earlier period of slavery, and the lax manner 
in which religion was later taught them, give ample justification for 
asking whether African belief and African methods of coping with 
supernatural forces might not have been taught and thus perpetuated 
on this more humble level. And the same method of retransmitting 
and reinforcing aboriginal customs may well have been in force 
as regards such other African culture elements as dancing and sing- 
ing and the telling of folk stories, while African patterns envisaged 
in the terms "morality," "etiquette," and "discretion" may also have 
been discussed enough to act as a brake on too rapid or too complete 
an adoption of white values. 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 133 

This would mean, then, that not only field hands, but all slaves 
were exposed to forces making for the retention of Africanisms. 
House servants had contact with newly arrived Africans when such 
persons were employed as helpers in the kitchens of the great house, 
or, as an actual instance recounted in the Sea Islands had it, when 
such persons were themselves in an emergency put to cooking. 89 JThat 
to assume a continuous process of mutual influence between Negroes 
born m this country jancT those freshly arrived from Africa, in all 
aspects of belief and behavior, Is~hbt ; unreasonable is further indi- 
cated by such a citation as the following : 

The "swonga" people were the drivers who took their orders directly 
from the overseer, the house servants who were intimately associated 
with the master's and overseer's families, the mechanics who were per- 
mitted to hire their own time from their masters and work in Beaufort 
or Charleston. To this group also belonged any among them who from 
superior rank or intelligence acted as their official or self-appointed 
leaders. The religious leaders and the plantation watchmen were usually 
"swonga" Negroes, as were also the witch doctors and those who could 
boast of physical prowess. 40 

Other occasions when Negroes in close contact with whites could 
reabsorb Africanisms were when slaves were released from imme- 
diate supervision, as when they worked by themselves to supplement 
what was provided them by their owners or when they were re- 
leased for holiday celebrations. Under the former heading would 
come those numerous instances when slaves were permitted to take 
produce or chickens and eggs to market ; or where they were allowed 
to go into swamps or uncleared forests to gather wood or trap pos- 
sum and other game. In the latter category fall such festivities as 
those at Christmas, a holiday whose celebration on some plantations 
and in some regions extended into the New Year. These occasions 
were marked by songs and dances and games and tales, many of 
which, being African in character, were thus passed on from one 
generation to the next. These gatherings also afforded unusually 
good opportunities for other African cultural elements, such as 
world view and magical practices, to be learned and thus kept living. 

One aspect of Negro experience in the United States that is sig- 
nificant in the total acculturative situation concerns the results of 
Negro-Indian contact. That in most of the New World, as well as 
in the United States, this contact was continuous from the earliest 
days of Negro slavery has not been as well recognized as might be, 
Students of the American Indian have speculated on the amount oi 



134 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Negro influence to be discerned in the present-day tribal customs of 
certain Indian groups who either possessed Negro slaves they later 
absorbed, or offered haven to escaped Negroes, giving them places 
as members of the tribe. But the possibility of Indian influence on 
Negro behavior, either directly or at second hand through the taking 
over of Indian customs already accepted by the whites, has not fig- 
ured in terms of the possibilities that have been envisaged in analyz- 
ing the forces which impinged on the Negro in his new habitat. 41 

It is apparent that in merely raising these questions, the need for 
reexamination of the problem is indicated, especially in view of the 
essentially simplistic character thus revealed of most statements con- 
cerning the nature, rate, and intensity of the acculturative process 
undergone by Negroes in the United States. As has been shown, in 
the West Indies the mechanisms are to be more clearly seen because 
the situation was such that Africanisms could be retained in great 
enough measure to permit the student more surely to assess the 
means whereby this end was achieved. In the United States, where 
the acculturative process went much farther than in the islands, the 
intellectual provincialism that has held students of slavery and of 
the Negro to preoccupation with the problems of the mainland alone 
has caused them to develop hypotheses that reflect their lack of 
acquaintance with the comparative data which allow the problem to 
be phrased in more realistic terms. 

Two or three instances may be offered from the rich documenta- 
tion available, to illustrate again the nature of the customary ap- 
proach. The following summary statement is typical: 

As individuals, the mulattoes always have enjoyed opportunities some- 
what greater than those enjoyed by the rank and file of the black 
Negroes. In slavery days, they were most frequently the trained servants 
and had the advantages of daily contact with cultured men and women. 
Many of them were free and so enjoyed whatever advantages went with 
that superior status. They were considered by the white people to be 
superior in intelligence to the black Negroes, and came to take great 
pride in the fact of their white blood. They developed a tradition of 
superiority. This idea was accepted by the black Negroes and conse- 
quently the mulattoes enjoyed a prestige in the Negro group. Where 
possible, they formed a sort of mixed-blood caste and held themselves 
aloof from the black Negroes and the slaves of lower station. 42 

Or, again, this passage, offered as background for a consideration 
of the Negro family as at present constituted, states the familiar 
point of the special opportunities of the house servant as against 
the field hand to acquire, in this case, the religion of the master : 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 135 

Although the house-servants because of their favored position in rela- 
tion to the master class were early admitted to the churches, it was only 
with the coming of the Methodists and the Baptists that the masses of 
slaves "found a form of Christianity that they could make their own." 43 

This same author is more emphatic when he discusses the differ- 
entials in acculturation that pertain to the family : 

The examination of printed documents as well as those collected from 
ex-slaves gives evidence of a wide range of differences in the status of 
the Negro family under the institution of slavery. These differences are 
related to the character of slavery as it developed as an industrial and 
social system. Where slavery assumed a patriarchal character the favored 
position of the house servants, many of whom were mulattoes, facili- 
tated the process by which the family mores of the whites were taken 
over. Thus close association of master class and the slaves often en- 
tailed such moral instruction and supervision of the behavior of the 
slave children that they early acquired high standards of conduct which 
seemed natural to them. Sexual relations between the white masters and 
the slave women did not mean simply a demoralization of African sex 
mores but tended to produce a class of mulattoes, who acquired a con- 
ception of themselves that raised them above the black field hands. In 
many cases these mulattoes either through emancipation or the purchase 
of their freedom became a part of the free class where an institutional 
form of the Negro family first took root. 44 

In the light of the data cited in earlier pages, however, it is appar- 
ent that the "favored position of the house servant" is taken for 
granted to a degree not justified by the facts. But beyond this, the 
assumption that in the slave cabins no "moral instruction" took 
place will strike the critical reader as a highly questionable assump- 
tion. Granting lack of contact by field hands with masters, is it to 
be inferred that the Negroes had no values of any sort to transmit 
to their children? Furthermore, would not a realistic appraisal of 
the morals of the masters, with whom the mulatto house servants 
are held to have been in such close contact, also be desirable in as- 
sessing the nature of the conventions which their personal retainers 
absorbed? It is likewise somewhat difficult to follow the assertion 
that sexual relations of slave women with masters did not demoral- 
ize African sex mores, but "tended to produce a class of mulattoes." 
Does this mean that the African sex mores were so loose that casual 
sexual relations were of no importance, when compared to the fact 
that offspring were born of matings? 

Criticism along these lines indicates the manner in which adher- 
ence to the stereotyped view, that differentials in acculturation on 



136 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

the basis of differing opportunities for contact are essentially to be 
explained in terms of assignment to house or field, tends to dull 
perceptions of the possible variations in the historic situation, and 
to induce contradictions and irrelevances in subsequent analyses of 
data. Because of this, quite as much as because of the doubts raised 
by the consultation of contemporary accounts and reevaluation of 
points, often made in passing, by historians of slavery, it becomes 
apparent that the entire problem must be reexamined if we are ade- 
quately to understand how the Negroes took over the behavior of 
their masters. 

4 

It has been stated that everywhere in the New World Africanisms 
are manifested to different degrees in the several aspects of Negro 
culture. In discussing this phase of the acculturative process, we will 
here concern ourselves with the manner in which these various dif- 
ferentials were established, leaving to succeeding chapters the task 
of illustrating actual survivals to be found in each of these aspects. 
For this, we must again briefly turn to the sociological and economic 
matrix of plantation life, since this was not only the dominating 
factor in the experience of most Negroes during the entire period 
of slavery, but has also played an important part in the life of large 
numbers of Negroes over all the New World since that time. 

In outlining this approach to the problem, the mistake must not 
be made of regarding the Negroes merely as passive elements in the 
situation. For study in Africa and in the New World has shown 
with great clarity that, as in all societies, certain aspects of culture 
are of greater concern to a people than others, which means that in 
every culture interests tend to center on certain activities more than 
on others. These conscious drives, directed toward a certain segment 
of the entire body of tradition, determine that area of the culture 
wherein the greatest elaboration of basic traditions is to be found 
at a given period in the history of a people; and under acculturation 
these interests come to be those held to with the greatest tenacity 
possible. 

If, then, the acculturative situation be analyzed in terms of differ- 
ing opportunities for retention of Africanisms in the various aspects 
of culture, it is apparent that African forms of technology, economic 
life,. and political organization had but a relatively slight chance of 
survival. Utensils, clothing, and food were supplied the slaves by 
their masters, and it is but natural that these should have been what 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 137 

was most convenient to procure, least expensive to provide, and, 
other things being equal, most like the types to which the slave- 
owne^ were accustomed. Thus African draped clothes were re- 
placed by tailored clothing, however ragged; the short-handled, 
broad-bladed hoe gave way to the longer-handled, slimmer-bladed 
implement of Europe; and such techniques as weaving and iron- 
working and wood carving were almost entirely lost. Except for 
such poor barter as the slaves could contrive among themselves, or 
in so far as they were permitted to sell in the markets, no remnant 
of the economic complexities of Africa remained on the plantation. 
Such widespread institutions as pawning had no opportunity to func- 
tion in the New World, nor could more than a few of the most 
rudimentary economic devices be carried on outside the all-encom- 
passing dictates of the master. 

The extinction of African political institutions also resulted from 
the situation of the slaves. Only in the most informal, even secret 
ways could African legal talent find expression or African political 
genius express itself. These traditions, it is true, persisted during 
the earlier periods of slavery even in the face of suppression, as is 
attested by the prompt organization of groups on African lines 
wherever Negro revolt was on a large enough scale to permit any 
stability in social structure to be realized. But such cases were ex- 
ceptional, and with the continuation of the slave status down the 
generations, aboriginal traditions in these aspects of culture tended 
to become more and more dilute, until today, as will be seen, they 
exist only rarely in immediate African form. 

In religion and magic, on the other hand, and as concerns certain 
nonmaterial aspects of the aesthetic life, there was greater reason, 
in terms of both aboriginal interest under slavery and the masters' 
requirements, for retentions. For, as it has been put : 

. . . The Africans were brought over to be industrially exploited, and 
the white master was careful to see that American farming practice was 
followed by the slaves. He cared less about the amusements and religion 
of the Negro so long as they did not affect his working ability. 45 

Slaves were proselytized by both Protestants and Catholics if com- 
pulsory baptism of Negroes in the Catholic countries of Hispaniola, 
Cuba, Brazil, and elsewhere can be described by this term but what- 
ever the attention given to "religious instruction" of the slaves in 
various areas and at various periods of slavery, the freedom of the 
slaves to conduct their own services without white supervision was 
always greater than their freedom to work or organize politically in 



138 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

the African manner. Magic was almost by its very nature adapted 
to "going underground/* and was the natural prop of revolt, as the 
following passage shows : 

Gullah Jack (one of the leaders in Denmark Vesey's Insurrection in 
South Carolina in 1822) was regarded as a sorcerer. . . . He was not 
only considered invulnerable, but that he could make others so by his 
charms (consisting chiefly of a crab's claw to be placed in the mouth) ; 
and that he could and certainly would provide all his followers with 
arms. 40 

Secret in its manipulation, it came to be feared almost as widely 
among the masters as among the slaves. 

The attitudes of the masters toward song and dance and folk tale 
varied throughout the New World from hostility and suspicion 
through indifference to actual encouragement. Such a trivial matter 
as the extent to which recreational forms tended to interfere with 
the master's personal convenience was important; such apparently 
irrelevant features as the amount of noise made in dancing or while 
singing tended to influence white attitudes. The quiet with which 
tales are told, plus their appeal to the whites as stories for children, 
made the retention of this element of African culture as ubiquitous 
as it is in the New World. African types of dancing and singing 
were allowed when they did not interfere with work or were per- 
formed on holidays ; at such times, according to numerous accounts, 
they were enjoyed by the masters who watched them as much as by 
the slave dancers and singers. The rhythmic accompaniment to song 
which, as we have seen, is fundamental in African musical expres- 
sion, was forced into various channels. The slave-owners found to 
their cost that drums which beat for dances could also call to revolt, 
and thus it came about that in many parts of the New World the 
African types of hollow-log drums were suppressed, being sup- 
planted by other percussion devices less susceptible of carrying mes- 
sages and could thus be restricted to beating dance rhythms. 

The disappearance of another outstanding form of African aes- 
thetic expression, wood carving, is to be attributed to a number of 
causes, not the least of which was economic. Slaves were bought to 
be worked, and the leisure essential to the production of plastic 
art forms was entirely denied them. Furthermore, there was little 
if any demand for what might have been carved, since European 
patterns of art appreciation were at that time hardly such as to en- 
courage the production of such exotic art forms. Why one special 
style of African carving should have survived in one part of the 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 139 

New World, and there alone, we do not know, but the special cir- 
cumstances under which Yoruban carving survived in Brazil, should 
these ever be discovered, will throw light on why similar survivals 
are not found elsewhere. 

Institutions in the field of social organization stand intermediate 
between technology and religion in respect to retention in the face 
of slavery. It goes without saying that the plantation system ren- 
dered the survival of African family types impossible, as it did 
their underlying moral and supernatural sanctions, except in dilute 
form. Only where Negroes escaped soon enough after the beginning 
of their enslavement, and retained their freedom for sufficiently long 
periods, could institutions of larger scone such as the extended 
family or the clan persist at all ; and even in these situations the mere 
breakup in personnel made it unlikely that some manifestation of 
European influence should not be felt. In Dutch Guiana alone has the 
clan persisted; what forms the social structures of present-day Negro 
communities of Brazil take is unknown, but in Haiti and Jamaica 
larger groupings go no further than a kind of loosely knit extended 
family. Yet, on the other hand, slavery by no means completely sup- 
pressed rough approximations of certain forms of African family 
life. Even in the United States, where Africanisms persisted with 
greatest difficulty, such family organization as existed during slave 
times in terms of the relationship between parents and children, and 
between parents themselves, did not lack African sanctions. 

Though slavery gave a certain instability to the marriage tie, in 
the New World as a whole the many persons who lived out their 
lives on the same plantation were able to establish and maintain 
families ; even in the United States it is far from certain that undis- 
turbed matings have not been lost sight of in the appeal of the more 
dramatic separations that actually did occur in large numbers. As 
will be indicated in the next chapter, certain obligations of parents 
to children operative in Africa no less than in the European scene 
were carried over with all the drives of their emotional content in- 
tact. The special kind of relationship between husband and wife 
characterizing the Negro family in all parts of the New World 
presents a problem whose historical solution can by no means be 
satisfactorily reached without reference to comparable patterns of 
life in preslavery Africa. The vivid sense of the power of the dead 
and the related feeling that the ancestors are always near by to be 
called on by their living descendants give a kind of strength to 
family ties among Negroes that can be traced in lessening degrees 
of intensity as one moves from West Africa itself to the New World 



140 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

areas where contact with European patterns was closest. It was but 
natural that all these elements of attitude, belief, and point of view 
concerning the ties of kinship should have been passed on as chil- 
dren were taught by their parents; to have been inculcated, more- 
over, without undue interference by the masters as long as they led 
to no action that would impede the smooth functioning of the estates. 

The traditions underlying nonrelationship groupings of various 
kinds likewise survived the slave regime. The degree to which this 
is true varied with the function of a given organization, approach- 
ing the impossible in the case of those secret societies so widely 
spread in the parts of Africa from which the slaves were drawn. In 
the latter instance, this sort of organization could only go under- 
ground or disappear, but for other kinds of associations such drastic 
action was not necessary. The spirit behind the numerous types of 
cooperative societies of Africa tended to be kept alive by the very 
form of group labor employed on the plantations. The feeling for 
mutual helpfulness inherent in this tradition contributed directly 
toward the adjustment of the African to his new situation, for with- 
out some formula of mutual self-help he could scarcely have sup- 
ported the oppression he suffered. And how strongly this formula 
did persist is indicated by the manner in which, on emancipation, 
cooperative organizations sprang up immediately in the Sea Islands, 
or how in the West Indies insurance organizations, of the kind com- 
mon in Africa, at once came into being. The great number of Negro 
lodges in the United States, though outwardly following conven- 
tional white patterns, are by no means the same as their white coun- 
terparts. One factor in preserving African sanctions in institutions 
of this sort has been the sense of the importance of leadership that 
characterizes all kinds of African social institutions.. The principle 
of order and regularity, induced by discipline exerted through re- 
sponsible headship, permeates African life, and this, reinforced by 
the very submission to authority demanded of the slave, has in many 
ways flowered under freedom. 

In seeking to understand the mechanisms making for the differing 
degrees of African elements found today in the several aspects of 
New World Negro culture, the forces which drove these folk toward 
the acceptance of European culture must also be evaluated. That is, 
we must consider those positive measures which made for acceptance 
df "ffie master's way of life as well as the negative forces that, with- 
out conscious direction, operated to discourage the retention of 
aboriginal patterns. The difference between these two drives may be 
illustrated by an example. As has been stated, the economic system 
in the New World tended of itself to inhibit African material cul- 



THE ACCULTURATIVE PROCESS 141 

ture and technological capabilities. Ironworking, wood carving, bas- 
ketry, and the like simply had no place in the new scene, and hence 
such techniques almost everywhere died out. On the other hand, 
proselyting among the slaves by Christian missionaries of various 
denominations constituted a positive drive. In the realm of belief, 
there is no logical reason why African world view might not bave 
been continued in the same way as motor habits of African dancing 
were retained. Changes would undoubtedly have appeared of them- 
selves, as they have in the dance, since some measure of innovation 
is the inevitable result of the contact stimulus. Yet in the case of the 
African world view, the efforts directed toward effecting change 
caused a premium to be placed by the whites on the overt acceptance 
of Christian religious beliefs and practices, and thus accelerated the 
disappearance of African forms. 

A further factor in inducing acculturation was an unconscious 
identification by the Negroes of the better way of life with the cus- 
toms of those who possessed the power to get for themselves the 
good things of existence. With passing generations, prestige values 
among the slaves, certainly of the United States, came more and 
more to be based on white values. Where contact was less imme- 
diate and less constant, as was the case in the Caribbean, the iden- 
tification of these values with the traditions of the masters was not 
so strong, while in this area there were those who could function 
effectively in terms of African ways of life and could thus retain 
prestige in terms of these capacities in a manner not possible on the 
continent. The worker of magic, the wise old woman, the man whose 
personality made him a leader in cooperative effort or in successful 
revolt thus retained a hold on the people such as was impossible 
where the impact of European custom was such as to inhibit these 
individuals from employing African methods of coping with their 
problems. 

This brings us to a final point in considering the forces that 
caused the differentials in Africanisms existing today in the various 
aspects of New World Negro culture in any given region the effect 
of that resilience toward new experience which in itself is a deep- 
seated tradition of Africa. It has already been indicated how, in 
West Africa, it was common for both conquerors and conquered to 
take over one another's gods and how, in the course of a man's 
everyday experience, it was deemed more advantageous for him to 
give way to a point of view against which he could not prevail than 
to persist in his attitude, however firmly he might hold an opinion. 
This tradition underlies the soft-spoken politeness for which the 
Negro is famous, which, in the form of a code far more elaborated 



142 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

in Africa and among New World Negroes than it ever was in Euro- 
pean life or in the behavior of whites in the Western Hemisphere, 
characterizes the relationships between Negroes quite as much as it 
-des-the behavior of Negroes toward whites. This tradition likewise 
gives historic validity to the circumspectness that has so often been 
interpreted by students of Negroes in the United States as a mere 
reflection of an accommodation to slavery that persisted because of 
the disadvantaged social and economic position of the Negro since 
emancipation. Yet we have seen how deeply rooted is this circum- 
spection in Africa itself, and how it is found among Negroes in 
every part of the New World. Though undoubtedly reinforced by 
the exigencies of slavery, it is thus nonetheless to be considered the 
carry-over of an older pattern, rather than merely something which 
afforded a means to adjust to the difficulties of life where freedom 
of personal decision was not permitted. 

Certain striking instances that document this tradition of pliability 
can be traced in the religious life of Negroes in those parts of the 
New World where, Catholicism being the official religion, numerous 
Negroes are members of the church while at the same time they con- 
tinue African modes of worship. What seem to be far-reaching 
contradictions are reconciled without apparent difficulty, for the 
pagan spirit believed to control a given manifestation of the universe 
is merely identified with a given saint, and unless missionary pressure 
places the African spirit under a ban and removes the prestige it 
would normally receive as a functioning entity, no demoralization 
results. The fate of African percussion instruments offers another 
example of this process of accommodation on a less dramatic level. 
African drums have entirely disappeared in the United States, yet 
one who is familiar with African music in its original forms cannot 
hear "boogie-woogie" piano rhythms without realizing that there is 
little difference between the two except in the medium of expression. 
Dutch Guiana provides a hint of how such adaptations came about. 
It is forbidden to use African types of drums in the city of Para- 
maribo, except at certain specified times. Yet the proper rhythms 
must be beaten whenever a diviner determines that an illness has 
been caused by a spirit, since drumming the rhythms of that spirit 
is essential to effecting a cure. Adaptation to the legal ban is simple, 
employing objects of European manufacture never intended for such 
use. A metal washbasin is filled with water, and another caused to 
float in it upside down; the rhythms beaten on the bottom of this 
smaller basin give the sound of a hollow-log drum without the same 
carrying power. The curing rite is thus carried out quietly, and 
African medical practices continue despite the troublesome rule. 



Chapter VI 

THE CONTEMPORARY SCENE: AFRICANISMS 
IN SECULAR LIFE 



In the preceding pages the position taken by students of the Negro 
concerning the existence or nonexistence of African survivals among 
Negroes of this country has been considered, and reservations to 
this position advanced on the basis of an horizon broader than that 
encompassed by the boundaries of the United States alone. The 
problem of Negro origins has been outlined, and the state of our 
knowledge about the tribal ancestry of New World Negroes as- 
sessed. The cultural heritage brought by them to the New World 
has been sketched and compared to statements commonly made re- 
garding African societies; and this has demonstrated how far the 
reality is removed from assertions found in the literature as written 
by those who, lacking firsthand experience in Africa, have in addi- 
tion but slight control of the source materials. How the slaves were 
obtained, and the extent to which they constituted selected portions 
or represented a cross section of the West African population, has 
been analyzed, and the refusal of the Negroes to accept slavery, in 
the manner customarily attributed to them, indicated. Finally, the 
mechanisms whereby the adjustment of the Negroes was achieved 
in the New World have been detailed. And this brings us to the 
subject of our ultimate concern the survivals of African traditions, 
attitudes, and institutionalized forms of behavior actually to be 
observed in present-day Negro life in the New World, particularly 
in the United States. 

In the discussion which follows, certain points are to be kept in 
mind. In the first place, the attack is always on the broad front im- 
plied in the methodological principle that Africanisms in the United 
States can be understood only in terms of the increased intensity of 
their counterparts elsewhere in the New World. This method per- 
mits recognition of vestigial occurrences of African tradition in this 
country that might otherwise be overlooked; in the case of more 

143 



144 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

obvious survivals, it affords the best clues to the processes which 
brought about the changes they have undergone. In short, though 
this analysis is primarily oriented toward the problem of Africanisms 
in the United States, this country will be treated as but a portion of 
the larger New World area which, from the point of view of the 
derivation of its Negro inhabitants, is largely an ethnic and cul- 
tural unit. 

A second point to be remembered is that documentation rests 
almost entirely on the available literature. This means that the mate- 
rials are weighted on the side of those aspects of Negro life that 
have attracted students of Negro custom. Because in this literature 
the same citations of fact are repeated from one work to another, it 
has not been considered necessary to employ any but the more com- 
prehensive sources. Puckett's standard work on Negro folk customs, 
which, despite the emphasis on European provenience laid in its 
opening and concluding chapters, is filled with materials that point 
directly to Africa, is one such work. C. S. Johnson's study of the 
Negro rural population of Macon County, Georgia, and the reports 
on a small-town Negro group by Powdermaker and Dollard also 
have been found useful. For the kinship units in Negro social or- 
ganization, Frazier's volume has been utilized, as have the works of 
Parsons and G. B. Johnson. Finally, the files of such periodicals as 
the Journal of American Folk-Lore and certain literary studies of 
southern Negro life which have been found to contain significant 
sociological and ethnographic materials complete this list of the 
kinds of sources primarily called on to supply our data. 

A most serious handicap is the absence of adequate field reports 
based on a combined historical, demographic, and comparative eth- 
nographic attack. Field work by Powdermaker, conceived in the 
broadest manner of any single study of a Negro group in the United 
States, suffers from lack of acquaintance with data from Negro 
societies in other parts of the New World and Africa. Interpreta- 
tions in this work are therefore often speculative where they might 
be subject to historical control; more regrettable is the fact that 
some of the critical materials which would have given greater in- 
sight into the life of this group have been overlooked. The psycho- 
logical preoccupations of Dollard in studying the same community 
have conditioned the frame of reference employed in gathering his 
data, and also frequently tend to becloud his interpretations. More- 
over, the same criticism, on a somewhat different level, may be 
lodged against the results of most sociological research in this field, 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 145 

since, as ir^the case of Johnson, for example, control of requisite 
comparative materials is likewise lacking. 

Finally, a caution is in order concerning the degree of purity 
assumed to exist in the African traits to be reviewed Because of 
the emotional "loading" of attitudes toward the problem under dis- 
cussion, the attempt to trace Africanisms is too frequently met with 
the counterassertion that the Negroes of the United States are not 
Africans, regardless of the fact that no implication of this kind is 
involved. In this discussion the point of view is held that, as in all 
scientific inquiry, the data must be followed wherever they lead ; and 
that an open mind on all phases of the problem must be retained 
until all possibilities of analysis have been exhausted. Negroes in 
the United States are not Africans, but they are the descendants of 
Africans. There is no more theoretical support for an hypothesis 
that they have retained nothing of the culture of their African 
forebears, than for supposing that they have remained completely 
African in their behavior. The realistic appraisal of the problem at- 
tempted here follows the hypothesis that this group, like all other 
folk who have maintained a group identity in this country, have 
retained something of their cultural heritage, while at the same time 
accommodating themselves, in whatever measure the exigencies of 
the historical situation have permitted, to the customs of the country 
as a whole. 1 



Our analysis of African survivals may begin with a consideration 
of how certain isolated African traits have held over in American 
Negro behavior, most often in uninstitutionalized form. That more 
examples of carry-overs falling in this category are not found in the 
literature is probably due to the lack of acquaintance of observers 
with related New World Negro cultures and the African back- 
ground, so that such points of significance are not reported. From 
a larger point of view, however, these instances, in the aggregate, 
contribute to no slight degree to the total pattern of Negro behavior 
and, because of their African character, help to distinguish it from 
the behavior of other elements in the population. 

The retention of Africanisms in motor habits presents a vast field 
for study. Methodological difficulties in the way of such research 
are appreciable, since results having scientific validity can be ob- 
tained only by analyzing motion pictures of such routine activities 
as walking, speaking, laughing, sitting postures, or of dancing, sing- 



146 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

ing, burden carrying, hoeing, and movements made in various in- 
dustrial techniques. Yet on the basis of uncontrolled observation, it 
is a commonplace that many American Negro forms of dancing are 
essentially African ; and this is confirmed by motion pictures taken 
of the Kwaside rites for the ancestors of the chief of the Ashanti 
village of Asokore, which include a perfect example of the Charles- 
ton, or by the resemblance to other styles of Negro dancing well 
known in this country included in films taken in Dahomey and 
among the Yoruba. 

In another less well-known field, it may be indicated that the 
precise method of planting photographed in Dahomey and in Haiti 
was observed by Bascom in the Gulla Islands in the summer of 
J 939- 2 This method, already described and illustrated for these other 
two regions, 3 is to work down and back each pair of rows in a field. 
A container of seed is held under the left arm, and the right or left 
heel, as the case may be, is used to make a shallow depression in the 
soil. The seeds are dropped in this hole, and dirt to cover them 
pushed over it with the toes; this foot is then placed ahead of the 
sower, and the same movements performed in the opposite row with 
the other foot. Whether this method is used elsewhere in the United 
States cannot be stated, but where it does occur it constitutes a direct 
survival of a West African motor habit. 

The description given of a Sea Island woman of the Civil War 
period may be cited as another instance of the survival of motor 
behavior : 

It was not an unusual thing to meet a woman coming from the field, 
where she had been hoeing cotton, with a small bucket or cup on her 
head, and a hoe over her shoulder, contentedly smoking a pipe and 
briskly knitting as she strode along. I have seen, added to all these, a 
baby strapped to her back. 4 

The habit of carrying burdens on the head, so widespread in tropical 
countries, is favored in West Africa and the West Indies. To what 
extent it has survived in the United States cannot be said, but that 
the practice has had an important influence on walking style is ap- 
parent. Whether or not it is the factor that has given the Negro 
his distinctive walk is for future research to determine, but the point 
must be kept in mind as at least a somewhat more tenable hypothesis 
than that advanced by one Freudian disciple, who held the Negro 
"slouch" to be the manifestation of a castration complex ! The ways 
in which southern rural Negro women habitually carry their infants 
do not today ordinarily include the method depicted in the quotation 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 147 

above ; as described, however, it corresponds exactly to one manner 
in which infants are transported in West Africa. The other method, 
still commonly to be seen among persons of the lower socio-economic 
strata of Negro rural society in this country, is to use one arm to 
hold the child as it straddles the hip of its carrier. 

The retention of certain industrial habits is hinted in the follow- 
ing passage : 

Broughton was a rice island, and the garnered rice was carried from 
the fields to the flats, then towed to the mill, where it was threshed and 
loaded on ships to be carried to the city. The rice was not husked at 
the plantation mills. This was done in the city, as rice was not con- 
sidered good in those days unless freshly beaten. On the plantation it 
was beaten fresh for dinner every day. For this purpose pestles and 
mortars;* hewn from the trunks of trees, were used, these becoming 
smooth and shining like metal from constant use. Two boys or two 
women would seize the pestles together in the middle, raising and letting 
them fall so quickly and evenly that the beating of rice was not con- 
sidered a difficult task. The children often tried it, but never succeeded, 
as the motion required a knack they did not possess. After the rice was 
loosened from the husks, it was placed in flat-bottomed baskets called 
fanners, held high, and allowed to fall into baskets placed on the ground, 
the wind blowing the chaff away. This process, which was called "fanning 
the rice," was repeated until the rice was perfectly clean. 5 

This technique is still employed in the islands, but the use of mortar 
and pestle elsewhere in the South has not been reported. Mortars 
and pestles of the type included in the collection from the Sea Islands 
at Northwestern University and woven trays used in winnowing the 
rice 6 are entirely African. Their use to shell cereals of one kind and 
another is ubiquitous throughout Africa, though of course not con- 
fined to that continent. The way in which these are used, however, 
shows a further retention of motor habit, especially in the tendency 
to work as rhythmically as possible ; in the West Indies, Guiana, and 
West Africa, it takes some experience for the visitor to learn to 
distinguish the alternate strokes of two pestles in the mortar from 
the beat of a drum. The woven trays used in the Sea Islands are 
made with the sewing technique called coiling, which is paramount 
in West Africa; more interesting is the fact that, as in Africa, the 
coils, in all instances examined, are laid on in a clockwise direction. 
This is an excellent example of the way in which the determinants 
of behavior lying beneath the conscious level may be continued 
where the manipulation of materials is involved. And this point is of 
the utmost importance in assessing carry-overs in personal habits 
which, lying beyond the attention of those to whose advantage it was 



148 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

during slavery to mold Negro behavior, continued undisturbed until 
today, to be numbered among those intangibles which give to the 
expression of Negro motor habits their distinctive form. 

The ways in which the hair of some Negro women, but particu- 
larly of small Negro girls, is dressed is so distinctive that only men- 
tion of this convention is necessary to bring it to mind. As far as is 
known, the one attempt to give a derivation for these styles of hair- 
dressing has been made by Puckett : 

In Africa, decoration of the hair reaches a high point, often consisting 
in mixing some plastic material with the hair and shaping the whole into 
a highly fantastic coiffure. With the Negro woman of the South the hair 
is still a prime object of decoration as evidenced by the many elaborate 
coiffures and by the "Hair Dresser" signs on many a lowly Negro cabin ; 
although there is a decided tendency to remove the kink, by odoriferous 
unguents of all kinds in imitation of the straight hair of the whites. 7 

Yet a statement of this kind is of but little help, for in many parts of 
the world men and women take pains in dressing their hair. That 
Negroes have many methods of hair straightening is well known; 
but this is decidedly not African, for nothing of the sort has been 
recorded from there. The most popular system of hair treatment 
used by Negroes is named "Poro," presumably after a Sierra Leone 
secret society of that name; but this merely indicates how this unit 
of American business conforms to the procedures of American 
business enterprise in general. 

The correspondences to be found in hairdressing are, however, 
far more specific and definite than those mentioned in the preceding 
passage. Unfortunately, we do not know whether definite names are 
given the many patterns into which the hair of Negro women and 
children is braided, nor have the actual braid designs been system- 
atically described. Yet the multiplicity of these is the outstanding 
feature of the hair-braiding pattern; unbroken parts running the 
length of the head, lengthwise parts broken by lateral lines, and 
many other combinations emphasize the contrasts between the white- 
ness of the scalp and the blackness of the hair, while the units into 
which the hair is gathered for braiding are frequently so small that 
one wonders how the braids can be achieved. These modes of hair- 
dressing are ubiquitous in West Africa, while everywhere in the 
West Indies Negro girls and women dress their hair in a similar 
manner, with similar designs based on the whiteness of the lines 
when the scalp shows between the numerous parts. In Dutch Guiana, 
these designs are frequently given names ; among the Bush Negroes 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 149 

of that country men as well as women part and braid their hair in 
this fashion. This, however, is a local elaboration, since in West 
Africa and the rest of the New World men customarily cut the hair 
close and wear it unparted, in the manner to be seen among the rural 
Negroes in this country. 

"Wrapping" the hair is part of the head-dressing complex as is 
the wearing of kerchiefs. This wrapping has been recorded both in 
the Sea Islands and farther west. Parsons has remarked the custom 
in the former locality : 

Women, old and young, quite commonly wear kerchiefs around the 
head and tied at the back. Underneath, the hair is likely to be "wrapped." 
You "wrap urn" (i.e., wrap strings around wisps of hair), beginning at 
the roots of the hair, and winding to the ends, "to make um grow." 8 

Again, from Missouri, the existence of this custom during a some- 
what earlier period is vouchsafed : 

There was nothing Aunt Mymee desired less than a "head -handker- 
chief/' as she wore her hair (except on Sundays, when it was carded 
out in a great black fleece), in little wads the length and thickness of her 
finger, each wad being tightly wrapped with white cord. 9 

Concerning the wearing of headkerchiefs in the United States, an- 
other Africanism, we have but little knowledge. The headkerchief 
was common enough so that it came to be accepted as an integral 
part of the conventional portrait of the Negro "mammy/' and a pre- 
emancipation passage hints at reasons for this earlier importance : 

Precedence and rank were respected among the slaves. In Charleston 
Ferguson noted that the married women were distinguished by a pe- 
culiarly-tied kerchief they wore upon their heads. 10 

In recent decades the wearing of headkerchiefs has greatly de- 
creased in the United States, but they are to be seen everywhere in 
the West Indies, while, as we move southward to Guiana, they are 
found to function importantly in the everyday life of women through 
the varying significance of the names given kerchief designs and 
styles of tying. 11 A West African distribution cannot be given on 
the basis of our present knowledge, but that a considerable number 
over fifty proverb-names for styles of tying kerchiefs could be 
recorded among the Ashanti of the Gold Coast is to be regarded as 
of some significance. Informants there maintained that the custom 
was one of long standing. In Haiti a white headkerchief marks the 
y or woman officiant in the vodun cult, and elderly people in 



150 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

general, men as well as women, often wear kerchiefs bound about 
their heads. 



Outstanding among the intangible values of Negro life in the 
United States is strict adherence to codes of polite behavior. Com- 
ments on the etiquette of Negro slaves are numerous, and some of 
these may be cited as illustrating the point. Botume, who worked 
among the Negroes released by Union troops on the Sea Islands, 
gives one aspect of the code : 

Before I had gone far I discovered that as I had begun to make calls, 
I must not omit one house, nor fail to speak to a single person, from the 
oldest grandparent to the youngest child. Their social rights were in- 
exorable. My guide said, "All them people waits to say how d'ye to you," 
so I went on. 12 

Doyle, whose discussion is primarily concerned with the canons of 
interracial behavior, quotes a contemporary statement which shows 
how readily the pattern of politeness among whites was taken over 
by the slaves who accompanied their masters to the health resort at 
White Sulphur Springs : 

If you would take your stand near the spring where they come down 
after pitchers of water you would witness practical politeness. The 

courtesy of Samuel, coachman of Dr. W to Mary, the maid of Mrs. 

Colonel . . . The polite salaams of Jacob to Rachel, the dressing 

woman, and of Isaac, the footman, to Rebecca, the nursery maid, would 
charm you. 13 

That this behavior did not merely imitate that of the whites, but had 
a solid foundation in the mores of the slaves themselves is to be seen 
from the following, wherein Douglass tells how politeness was ex- 
acted in the cabins : 

. . . These mechanics were called "uncles" by all the younger slaves, 
not because they really sustained that relationship to any, but according 
to plantation etiquette, as a mark of respect, due from the younger to 
the older slaves. Strange, and even ridiculous as it may seem, among a 
people so uncultivated, and with so many stern trials to look in the face, 
there is not to be found, among any people, a more rigid enforcement 
of the law of respect to elders, than they maintain. I set this down as 
partly constitutional with my race, and partly conventional. There is no 
better material in the world for making a gentleman, than is furnished 
in the African. He shows to others, and exacts for himself, all the 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 151 

tokens of respect which he is compelled to manifest toward his master. 
A young slave must approach the company of the older with hat in 
hand, and woe betide him, if he fails to acknowledge a favor, of any 
sort, with the accustomed "tank'ee," etc. So uniformly are good manners 
enforced among slaves, that I can easily detect a "bogus" fugitive by his 
manners. 14 

This strict ordering of conduct is by no means a matter that began 
with slavery nor has ended with it. Puckett in several passages com- 
ments on Negro etiquette, attempting to account for it in a number 
of ways, among which is the importance of taking adequate precau- 
tions against magic : 

Many of these taboos have to do with matters of etiquette and seem 
to be in reality a linking of unpleasant results with uncouth manners in 
an attempt to frighten the young into a quicker acquisition of American 
good-breeding. 15 

As will be seen shortly, however, the elements in the Negro code 
differ somewhat from patterns followed by the American majority, 
so that an explanation in terms of drives to acquire these new modes 
of conduct is not entirely satisfactory. Puckett's analysis of the 
respect accorded elderly folk is more to the point. Here he notes "the 
practice of calling all old people 'Uncle* and ' Aunty ' whether they 
are relatives or not/' 16 and in the following passage, which affords 
testimony of how viable has been the custom noted for a preceding 
generation by Douglass, he says : 

... it is considered bad luck to ... "sass" the old folks. This latter 
idea may have at one time had a real meaning, since the old folks were 
"almost ghosts," and hence worthy of good treatment lest their spirits 
avenge the disrespect and actually cause bad luck to the offender. 17 

The validity of this explanation is best indicated by referring the 
assertion that "old folks" are "almost ghosts" to the tenets of the 
ancestral cult which, as one of the most tenacious Africanisms, has 
left many traces in New World Negro customs. For, as has been 
shown, the belief in the power of the ancestors to help or harm their 
descendants is a fundamental sanction of African relationship group- 
ings, and this has influenced the retention of Africanisms in many 
aspects of Negro life in the New World. 

Another specific survival of African etiquette is the matter of 
turning the head when laughing (sometimes with the hand over the 
mouth), or in speaking to elders or other respected persons of avert- 
ing the eyes and perhaps the face. The clue to this correspondence 
came when working with a native of the Kru tribe of Liberia, who, 



152 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

while demonstrating his language to a university class, performed 
what was thought to be this characteristically American Negro ges- 
ture as the group before him laughed at a joke he had made. On 
inquiry the nature of this as a form of politeness was made clear, 
the theory behind it being that it is rude to laugh in the face of 
another. This convention was later found general in other portions 
of West Africa; unfortunately, the literature does not deal with 
minor matters of personal conduct such as this, and other compara- 
tive data are therefore lacking. 

In Guiana, not only does one not laugh in the face of another, 
but a young man does not even look at the elder to whom he is 
speaking. Moreover, he speaks in a low voice, and introduces a con- 
ventionalized stammer into his speech. How this pattern has carried 
over into Negro behavior in this country is to be seen from the ex- 
perience of a colored principal in a northern school, where many 
children, recent migrants from the South, had to be dealt with. It 
was only when this officer learned that to turn the head is a mark of 
respect and not a sign of inattention, that the injustice that had been 
done to a number of these southern Negro children sent to the school 
office for discipline was realized. 

The manner in which, in many Negro churches, the sermon forms 
a kind of litany between preacher and congregation represents the 
reworking of still another form of African polite behavior. In these 
discourses, it will be recalled, the words of the preacher are con- 
stantly interspersed with such expressions as "Yes, Lord," or "Oh, 
Jesus," and those other numerous phrases that have come to be 
standard in such rituals. Insight into the African nature of this 
convention came during field work in the interior of Dutch Guiana, 
where a running series of assents to what is being said by a man of 
rank or age punctuates his speech, the responses being the more 
frequent and fervent the more important the person speaking, and 
the greater the respect to which he is entitled. "Yes, friend," "So it 
is," "Ya-hai" "True, true," are some of the expressions which are 
as standardized as are the interpolations of Negro worshipers during 
the sermons of their ministers. 18 The same trait marks West Indian 
Negro churches, while in the Caribbean there is also a tendency to 
interject stylized assents into what is often no more than give-and- 
take between two acquaintances. And, completing the sequence, it 
may be noted that the same rule of polite conduct characterizes the 
African scene, both as regards the responses made by common per- 
sons to those of rank and between persons of equal position, it being 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 153 

explicitly stated there that to listen passively to the words of another 
is to be guilty of rudeness. 

A different kind of carry-over from an earlier tradition is found 
in such an intangible as the concept of time held by Negroes. By 
this is not meant the disregard for punctuality so often made the 
occasion for joking when reference is made to such an hour as "eight 
o'clock C. P. T." signifying that, since this is "Colored Peoples' 
Time," an hour or two later than the one named is actually meant. 
Disregard for punctuality is to be expected wherever timekeeping 
devices are lacking; which is to say that approximations of time 
rather than punctuality mark the life of most human beings. What is 
meant here is the way in which the day is divided, and the special 
significance for Negroes of terms such as "evening" and "morning." 
The point can be made by a quotation from Bollard which illustrates 
"the initial appearance of strangeness" he experienced in the man- 
ners of the Negro community he was to study : 

I took my laundry one day to a Negro laundress . . . and asked her 
when it would be ready. She said, "Oh, tomorrow evening." After sup- 
per the next day I went back. She reproached me on the ground that it 
had been done for five or six hours and I could have had it earlier : "I 
expected you to come around about two o'clock this evening." Morning 
is from when you get up until around two, and evening is from then on. 
At first I thought only Negroes used the word in this way, but later 
found that white people do too. 19 

The same linguistic conception of time divisions is to be encountered 
throughout the West Indies, while the prevalence of a similar usage 
throughout West Africa traces them to their source. 

At this point we may consider in some detail manifestations in the 
United States of the ability of the Negro to adjust to his situation 
by adapting himself to the requirements of the moment, a point that 
has been referred to several times before. Ordinarily, this is held to 
indicate the quickness of members of this underprivileged group to 
comprehend and acquiesce in the wishes of those over them, espe- 
cially manifest in their circumspectness in handling whites. Some of 
the comments that have been made on Negro reticence and pliability 
may be indicated. Doyle analyzes the common reaction : 

The Negro . . . "gets along" because, when in doubt as to what is 
expected of him, he will ask what is customary not what is the law. 
He seems subconsciously to feel that custom is more powerful than law. 
And yet there are instances where no one can tell him just what is the 
custom or what will be accepted. In this case he falls back on old habits. 



1 54 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

If these habits are not accepted, the Negro merely "turns on his per- 
sonality" and, by apology, ingratiation, or laughter, will be able to turn 
even this hard corner. 20 

How one element in this technique was employed during slavery 
is recounted by this same writer in the following passage : 

A slave, on occasion, might be impudent if he supported his impu- 
dence with a quotation from the Scriptures. A slave trader was unload- 
ing a carload of Negroes at a station in Georgia. As he stepped on the 
platform he asked if all the Negroes were there. Thereupon one slave 
replied: "Yes, massa, we's all heah." "Do dyself no harm, foh we's all 
heah," added another, quoting Saint Peter. . . . On other occasions 
slaves would improvise songs which were positively impudent, but 
which, clothed in the right forms, would pass unnoticed, or even pro- 
voke a smile or laughter. 

We raise de wheat, dey gib us de corn ; 

We bake de bread, dey gib us de cruss ; 

We sif * de meal, dey gib us de huss ; 

We peal de meat, dey gib us de skin ; 

And dat's de way dey takes us in. 

We skims de pot, dey gib us de liquor, 

An* say, "Dat's good enough fer a nigger." 21 

Puckett feels that perhaps "the opportunity of poking fun at the 
white race in an indirect way is the basis of the many Irishman 
jokes, so widespread among the Southern Negro," and indicates the 
form which such satisfactions take in the following passage : 

... the Negro does love to Ipugh at the mishaps of his white master, 
as evidenced by such stories as that of the new field hand who did not 
understand the meaning of the dinner bell. His master found him in the 
field still working after the bell had rung, and angrily commanded him 
to "drop whatever he had in his hands" and run for the table whenever 
he heard it ring. Next day at noon he was carrying his master, taken 
sick in the fields, across a foot-log over the creek when the bell rang. 
He "dropped" the white man in the water and nothing was done to him 
for he had only done what the master had commanded. 22 

This complex of indirection, of compensation by ridicule, of eva- 
sion, and of feigned stupidity has obviously been important in per- 
mitting the Negro to get on in the different situations of everyday 
life he has constantly encountered. How this operated during the 
days of slavery has been summarized as follows : 

. . .the Negroes are scrupulous on one point; they make common 
cause, as servants, in concealing their faults from their owners. Inquiry 
elicits no information ; no one feels at liberty to disclose the transgressor ; 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 155 

all are profoundly ignorant; the matter assumes the sacredness of a 
"professional secret": for they remember that they may hereafter re- 
quire the same concealment of their own transgressions from their fel- 
low servants, and if they tell upon them now, they may have the like 
favor returned them ; besides, in the meantime, having their names cast 
out as evil from among their brethren, and being subjected to scorn, and 
perhaps personal violence or pecuniary injury. 23 

Mutual aid on this level has continued to characterize Negro be- 
havior. This passage explains reactions described in such a literary 
work as Porgy. In this play it will be remembered how the white 
man asks for Porgy at the cluster of dwellings where he lives; how, 
though Porgy himself is present, no one reveals that he has so much 
as heard of such a person until the good intentions of the inquirer 
have been established. 

That reactions of this type are common among New World 
Negroes is shown by an incident which occurred a few years ago in 
the island of St. Vincent. During field work in Dutch Guiana, it had 
been discovered that a certain African game, named variously adji 
boto and wari, was played by the Negroes of the bush and coastal 
region there. 24 Because it was an important item in the list of New 
World African survivals, attempts were made to discover its further 
distribution in the Caribbean islands, since certain almost involun- 
tary reactions of Trinidad Negroes who had seen a board collected 
in Guiana indicated that they were not entirely unacquainted with 
the game, despite the fact that none of them would admit knowing it. 
At St. Vincent, therefore, no time was lost in making inquiry of one 
of the boatmen who rowed passengers ashore. "Wari, wari?" He 
repeated the term. "Never heard of it." It was then explained that 
the game was played with "horse-nickel" seeds on a board having 
twelve holes, whereupon he replied, "Oh, you mean wari ! I've heard 
of it, but we doesn't play it here. They plays it strong in Trinidad." 
It was then indicated that at Trinidad it had been said that the game 
was played in St. Vincent, and disappointment was expressed that 
it would not be possible to have a game before the ship left port. 
Since few whites know this game, the man looked up sharply. "You 
play wari ? French or English ?" On learning that either was accept- 
able, he pondered further. "I think I know a man who has a board 
like that. I'll see if I can find him." Eventually, the game was played 
with this same boatman, in his own house, on his own board ! The 
incident becomes the more significant when it is borne in mind that 
the game has no moral or political importance that would lead to its 
suppression; that it is not a gambling game, but is played for the 



156 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

prestige that goes with winning ; that there is no reason why anyone 
should deny knowing it. Yet in the islands, unless one comes on men 
actually playing it, knowledge even of its existence is almost in- 
variably denied; and not until it becomes clear that it is already 
known to an inquirer is there any relaxation of vigilance concerning 
this game, which is so closely identified with Negro life. 

Yet why must reference be made to the African past in account- 
ing for this pattern of indirection? Is it not true that all under- 
privileged peoples take recourse to subterfuge and concealment as 
their only weapon? Is it not true, in any event, that such lack of 
frankness merely represents the customary caution of the peasant 
mind? In short, cannot such a tradition of reserve be attributed to 
experience under slavery more immediately than any other part of 
Negro behavior? Whatever the African basis for this attitude, it 
must be clear that slavery did nothing to diminish the force of its 
sanctions. Nor have the disabilities under which the Negro has lived 
since slavery tended to decrease its appeal as an effective measure 
of protection. Nonetheless, certain characteristic reactions to life in 
Africa itself on the part of upper class as well as ordinary folk, 
which even take certain institutionalized forms in the political sys- 
tem of at least one well-integrated African culture make it essential 
that this tradition of indirection be regarded as a carry-over of 
aboriginal culture. 

One instance where this view was clearly expressed was in the 
course of a discussion of nonesoteric aspects of Bush Negro burial 
rites such matters as the disposal of the house of the dead, kinds 
of goods placed in coffin, and the like. The conversation dealt with 
no new points, but was merely incident to checking certain overt 
details of death rituals which had been jointly observed and partici- 
pated in by questioner and informant. Suddenly, however, the con- 
versation ended with a flat refusal on the part of the Bush Negro to 
discuss the matter further. Argument availed nothing, except to elicit 
a reply that was more enlightening than the information sought 
could possibly h^ve been: "White man, long ago our ancestors 
taught us that a man must not tell anyone more than half of what 
he knows about anything. I have told you half of what I know/' No 
better exposition of the point of view under discussion could be 
desired; that it could be expressed so succinctly is an indication of 
how consciously it is accepted by these people as a guiding principle 
in everyday relations, while the recognition of its applicability by 
American Negro groups to whom this incident has been recounted 
shows that it is not limited by any means to Dutch Guiana. 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 157 



Numerous examples of the ogeration^of th^ ^f ^jnHjr^Q^ in 
West Africa could be given, but its institutionalized forms best 
demonstrate how congenial is the principle to the thought of the 
people. An outstanding instance is the role it played in the taxation 
systems of the various monarchies. These systems have been de- 
scribed in detail, both for the Ashanti of the Gold Coast and for 
the kingdom of Dahomey, and hence need only be outlined here. 25 
Among the former people, the throne did not exact inheritance taxes 
except at several times removed from the original levy. When an 
ordinary man died, the local chief took control of the government's 
share, and retained this during his lifetime. The duties on the estate 
of such a local chief went to his superior, the district head; and it 
was only on the death of such a high official that the inheritance 
taxes of those under him who had died during his lifetime finally 
reached the central power. In Dahomey, the entire system of census 
enumeration and the taking of vital statistics, on which taxation was 
based, postulated the acquisition of the requisite information with- 
out the knowledge of those being counted. The identical principle 
operated in levying the taxes themselves, for necessary counting of 
resources and goods was similarly achieved by such devious ways 
that one can well believe the statement of members of the native 
royal family that the people rarely realized when or by whom the 
count was taken. 

This was but a part of an entire system of control. Each official, 
through whose hands flowed the stream of wealth directed toward 
the royal palace, was "controlled" by a "wife" of the king who, as 
a member of the inner bureaucracy, was charged with seeing to it 
that not even the word of the highest officials was taken without 
independent validation. The attitude of the natives toward the 
straightforwardness of the European is revealed by current com- 
ment on the methods of the French colonial officials in administering 
taxation. The French have imposed a head tax which, like the taxes 
of the native kingdom, is based on census enumeration. Unlike na- 
tive practice, however, the French query each compound head di- 
rectly as to the number of people in his compound. It is well under- 
stood that the more truthful a man is, the more he will have to 
pay ; the comment on the technique was : "Our ancestors may have 
had no guns and hacKto fight with hoe handles, but they were wiser 
than to ask directly that a man tell them something to his dis- 
advantage!" 

As has been stated, many other instances of the principle of in- 
direction as this operates among Negroes might be given from the 



158 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

West Indies and West Africa no less than from the United States, 
such as the oblique references in the "songs of allusion" that play 
an appreciable role in regulating social life. Certainly this principle 
is~ every where given clear expression as a guide to overt behavior. 
That as life is lived, it is a worth-while principle to speak with re- 
serve, to hold back something of what one knows, to reveal no more 
than one must, can be immediately recognized ; in the most ordinary 
dealings, the principle that one keep one's counsel and, as a mini- 
mum, offer only such information as may be requested, has been 
found to be not unprofitable. To ask a question such as Puckett 
poses, "May not the organized hypocrisy of the Southern Negro 
also be an adaptation forced upon the Negro by conditions of life?" 
shows how misinterpretation can easily arise where the force of 
traditional sanctions has gone unrecognized. For diplomacy, tact, 
and mature reserve are not necessarily hypocrisy ; and while the situa- 
tion of the Negro in all the New World, past and present, has been 
such as to force discretion upon him as a survival technique, it is 
also true that he came on to the scene equipped with the technique 
rather than with other procedures that had to be unlearned before 
this one could be worked out. 

The principle of indirection, then, must be looked on as imme- 
diately descended from the African scene. The implications of this 
fact in giving form to Negro behavior, like other intangibles such 
as canons of etiquette and concepts of time also considered in this 
section, cannot be overlooked if a true picture of Negro life is to be 
had, either for scientific analysis or to help understand the present- 
day interracial situation. 



We now move from less overt aspects of culture to more institu- 
tionalized forms, and consider first those elements in the organiza- 
tion of Negro society that are not dependent on relationship ties. The 
question at this point reduces itself essentially to what vestiges of 
African "associations," if any, are to be discerned the extent to 
which such nonpolitical organizations as cooperative groupings of 
various kinds and secret or nonsecret societies have survived the 
experience of slavery. 

It would be strange if African political forms had continued in 
any degree of purity except where successful escape from slavery 
rendered necessary some administrative arrangement to care for the 
affairs of the runaway group. In such cases as those of Brazil, Dutch 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 159 

Guiana, and Jamaica, African political organizations were set up. 
But for other parts of the New World, little information of the 
controls that operate within Negro communities is to be had. Co- 
lonial administration, or the organization of national governments 
on the republican model, as in Haiti, effectively mask any extralegal 
institutions which may exist among the Negroes. In Trinidad, 
among such a group as the followers of the Shango cult, or in the 
"shouting" Baptist churches, little recourse is had to goverimental 
instruments for the settling of disputes or for administering other 
measures of control. The leader and elders are entirely capable of 
handling such situations as arise within the community, and their 
decrees are followed by common consent. This is probably similar to 
what is found in more tenuous form among the Negroes of the 
southern part of the United States, where similar extralegal devices 
operate. These may perhaps represent a response to the conviction 
that justice is not to be found in the white man's courts and that it 
is therefore the part of wisdom to submit disputes to the arbitration 
of an impartial member of the group. 26 

Yet the question remains whether any survivals of African legal 
institutions are to be found beyond these informal methods of car- 
ing for situations that might otherwise fall into the hands of the law. 
Aimes has given the matter the most careful study of any student to 
date, but has found few clues except in the early history of the 
period of slavery. 27 The Negroes of New England, particularly of 
Connecticut, appear to have elected a headman or "governor." A 
record exists of a gravestone in the burial ground of Norwich, Con- 
necticut, inscribed "In memory of Boston Trowtrow, Governor of 
the African tribe in this Town, who died 1772, aged 66." 28 Steiner, 
who takes it for granted that the election of such an official by the 
Negroes "showed the usual imitation of ... white masters" 
which Aimes disputes quotes a description of this officer : 

The negroes, "of course, made their election to a large extent deputa- 
tively, as all could not be present, but uniformly yielded to it their 
assent. . . . The person they selected for the office was usually one of 
much note among themselves, of imposing presence, strength, firmness, 
and volubility, who was quick to decide, ready to command, and able to 
flog. If he was inclined to be arbitrary, belonged to a master of distinc- 
tion, and was ready to pay freely for diversions these were circum- 
stances in his favor. Still it was necessary he should be an honest 
negro, and be, or appear to be, wise above his fellows/' What his powers 
were was probably not well defined, but he most likely "settled all grave 



160 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

disputes in the last resort, questioned conduct, and imposed penalties 
and punishments sometimes for vice and misconduct." 29 

It is understandable how the institutions Negroes set up to control 
their own affairs eventually came into conflict with the need for cen- 
tralization of authority in the North ; in the South, any toleration of 
such types of organization was unlikely. Aimes' findings confirm 
such an a priori judgment : 

Considerable research has failed to reveal any very satisfactory mate- 
rial relating to these institutions in the South. The laws repressing 
meetings of negroes appear to have been severe. The following account 
of an African "wizard" is interesting and important, but the fact that 
he is said to have operated "many years ago" may detract somewhat 
from its value. An old Guinea negro, a horse-trainer and hanger-on of 
sporting contests, "claimed to be a conjurer, professing to have derived 
the art from the Indians after his arrival from Africa. " The only use he 
made of this valuable accomplishment was "in controlling riotous gath- 
erings" of negroes, and "in causing runaway slaves to return, foretelling 
the time they would appear and give themselves up." He would get the 
masters and overseers to pardon their erring slaves. This shows a power- 
ful control in this man over his fellows, and one that could be put to 
good use if properly directed. The basis of his power undoubtedly lay 
in some combination of the mores of the negroes themselves. Traces of 
this individual power seem to be present in the Gabriel revolt in Vir- 
ginia in 1800, and in the Nat Turner revolt at a later date. It is not to 
be supposed that the negroes would have submitted to a form of con- 
juration derived from Indians. 30 

It is thus understandable why few institutionalized survivals of 
the political systems of West Africa are to be encountered in this 
country. It is rather a tradition of discipline and organization that 
is found, a "feel" for the political maneuver apparent in operations 
marking the attainment of control within Negro organizations, or 
the shrewdness with which participation of Negro groups in the 
larger political scene is directed by Negro politicians so as to get the 
most out of the truncated situation. 31 Yet because in the main we 
find African sanctions rather than African political institutions does 
not mean that within the Negro group more specific manifestations 
of the African pattern of organized directed effort are lacking. In 
West Africa, these nonrelationship groupings have their most im- 
portant manifestation in cooperative endeavor. It is therefore to 
various kinds of cooperative and mutual-aid effort among Negroes 
of this country that we must look for the survivals of the African 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 161 

tradition of discipline and control based on acquiescence and di- 
rected toward the furtherance of community needs. 

The tradition of cooperation in the field of economic endeavor is 
outstanding in Negro cultures everywhere. It will be recalled that 
this cooperation is fundamental in West African agriculture, and in 
other industries where group labor is required, and has been re- 
ported from several parts of the slaving area. 32 This tradition, car- 
ried over into the New World, is manifest in the tree- felling parties 
of the Suriname Bush Negroes, the combites of the Haitian peasant, 
and in various forms of group labor in agriculture, fishing, house- 
raising, and the like encountered in Jamaica, Trinidad, the French 
West Indies, and elsewhere. This African tradition found a con- 
genial counterpart in the plantation system ; and when freedom came, 
its original form of voluntary cooperation was reestablished. It is 
said to have reappeared in the Sea Islands immediately after the 
Civil War, 33 but its outstanding present form is gang labor. It is the 
essence of this system that work is carried on cooperatively under 
responsible direction; by use of the precise formula under which 
cooperative work is carried on in all those other parts of the New 
World, and in Africa, where it has been reported. 

Such instances of cooperative labor among Negroes of the United 
States as have been noticed have been dismissed as something bor- 
rowed from such forms in European tradition as the "bee." That 
these types of cooperation were important in frontier life is self- 
evident; it does not follow, however, that cooperation among 
Negroes is merely a reflection of these white manifestations of or- 
ganized aid. The "bee," characteristic of white America, was, as a 
matter of fact, not current to any considerable degree in those parts 
of the country where Negroes were most to be found. The phenom- 
enon characterized the northern and northwestern states rather than 
the southern ; in a plantation slave economy, the necessity of calling 
in neighbors to help in doing work slaves could perform was obvi- 
ated. This is especially true since the neighbors, themselves presum- 
ably slave-owners, had no great competence in the manual arts. It is 
thus much simpler to assume that resemblances existed between Eu- 
ropean and African patterns which tended to reinforce each other. 

Cooperation among the Negroes of this country is principally 
found in such institutions as lodges and other benevolent societies, 
which in themselves are directly in line with the tradition under- 
lying similar African organizations. The role of the secret societies 
in the parts of Africa from which the slaves were derived is well 
known, but has been stressed in favor of the large number of less 



162 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

sensational, but no less important, nonsecret associations. It is these 
more prosaic organizations, however, that in time of need assure 
their members access to resources greater than those of any individ- 
ual, which give this type of society an especially significant part in as- 
suring stability to African social structure. That in this country 
Negro assurance societies, especially burial societies, take on the form 
of lodges in so many cases, and that Negro lodges of various types 
represent such an exuberant development of the common American 
lodge, is to be explained in two ways. In the first case, the coalescence 
of the cooperative assurance and secret society traditions may be 
considered as developing out of a tendency, under acculturation, to 
blur distinctions which prior to contact were quite clear. Secondly, 
the psychological device of compensation through overdevelopment, 
so often encountered among underprivileged groups forced to adhere 
to majority patterns, and the failure of white lodges to accept their 
Negro counterparts brought it about that the initial stimulus was 
diverted from the channels it followed among the donor group and 
emphasized for the Negro lodge its distinctive traits. 

Whatever the derivation of such organizations, their importance 
has long been recognized. Citations such as the following are typical 
of earlier studies : 

Perhaps no phase of negro life is so characteristic of the race and has 
developed so rapidly as that which centers around secret societies and 
fraternal orders. . . . Scores of different orders are represented in 
Southern towns, with hundreds of local chapters. A special feature of 
the colored organizations is found in the local character of their orders. 
The majority have their home offices in the state in which they do busi- 
ness. Few extend over much greater territory. 34 

Continuing, this account becomes somewhat more specific : 

Investigations show that other societies are in operation in Mississippi 
besides those chartered and recorded on the official lists. Some of these 
operate under secret rules and assess members according to their own 
agreement. The total number of such organizations, including the many 
little ephemeral societies operated wherever groups of negroes are 
found, would run into the hundreds. Sometimes they continue for a 
year, sometimes only for one or two meetings. ... A study of the 
names of the societies . . . will reveal much of their nature. . . . They 
pay burial expenses, sick benefits, and small amounts to beneficiaries 
of deceased members. Such amounts are in many cases determined en- 
tirely by the number of members, the assessment plan being the most 
common and most practical one. Members are admitted variously accord- 
ing to a flexible constitution made to meet the demands of the largest 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 163 

number of people. There are non-paying members who receive only the 
advantages coming from the fraternal society ; there are those who take 
insurance for sick benefits only, while others wish burial expenses also. 
Still others take life insurance, while some combine all benefits, thus 
paying the larger assessments and dues. 35 

Though couched in language not commonly employed at the present 
time by students of the Negro, the following further observations of 
this same student are to the point : 

Some evidences of the higher forms of sympathy may be seen in the 
working of the fraternal societies in ministering to the sick, the widows 
and the orphans, and in paying off benefits. While the obligation of the 
society upon its members seems in every case to be the direct cause of 
a service, sympathy often grows out of the deed, and the members of 
such societies grow enthusiastic in their advocacy of the cause, giving 
these deeds of service as evidence. So it happens that the leaders of the 
various societies have come to feel, in addition to the personal gratifica- 
tion of succeeding in rivalry, an eager interest in their work. 36 

This explanation of how sympathy is aroused in this people may be 
dismissed as aside from the point ; what is important for our pur- 
pose is the variety of ends which these societies fulfill in exercising 
their cooperative function. 

Today this type of organization and its place in such a community 
as that studied recently by Powdermaker, corresponds closely to the 
traits mentioned in the earlier statement : 

Three large insurance companies compete for the patronage of the 
Negroes in the community: The Afro- American, the Knights and 
Daughters of Tabor, and the Universal Life Insurance Co. The first 
two are also fraternal orders, with appropriate rituals and a pronounced 
social flavor. . . . Most of the local Negroes belong to at least one of 
the societies, and some belong to more than one. Twenty to thirty cents 
a week is a rough and conservative estimate of the average family con- 
tribution for insurance. 37 

Though in the district studied by Johnson, "a loss of confidence" in 
the insurance groups resulted from numerous failures in the early 
1930*5, and because of their "widespread exploitation by both whites 
and Negroes from the outside," it is still noted that: 

There were 224 of the 612 families who now have, or have had, insur- 
ance, and 170 of these paid premiums of 25 cents a week or less. 
Twenty-one companies and lodges were represented in these numbers. 38 

The many functions of the various fraternal or insurance socie- 



1 64 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

ties, secret and nonsecret, are suggested in the following passage 
from a study made in 1906 of the various forms of economic co- 
operation among Negroes : 

No complete account of Negro beneficial societies is possible, so large 
is their number and so wide their ramification. Nor can any hard and 
fast line between them and industrial insurance societies be drawn save 
in membership and extent of business. These societies are also difficult 
to separate from secret societies ; many have more or less ritual work, 
and the regular secret societies do much fraternal insurance business. 3 * 

That the incidence of these societies is not restricted to the South is 
to be seen in the enumeration of organizations given by this author 
for various towns and cities. Xenia, Ohio, which at that time had a 
Negro population of 2,000, possessed eleven chapters of various 
more or less national organizations. The following passage, con- 
cerning Philadelphia, is instructive : 

From general observation and the available figures, it seems fairly 
certain that at least 4,000 Negroes belong to secret orders, and that these 
orders annually collect at least $25,000, part of which is paid out in sick 
and death benefits and part invested. . . . The function of the secret 
society is partly social intercourse and partly insurance. They furnish 
pastime from the monotony of work, a field for ambition and intrigue, 
a chance for parade, and insurance against misfortune. Next to the 
church they are the most popular organizations among Negroes. 40 

It is impossible to read such an account of the development of 
these cooperative groupings as is contained in the work cited, or in 
Browning's analysis of their history, 41 without realizing that here 
the student is face to face with one of the deep-seated drives in 
Negro life; drives so strong, indeed, that it is difficult, if not im- 
possible, to account for them satisfactorily except in terms of a 
tradition which reaches further than merely to the period of slavery. 
Allowing for the advantages of such organizations to any under- 
privileged group, facing the problem of existence in an economy such 
as the one in which they live, this fact alone cannot explain why 
cooperative institutions of the type found among Negroes flourish 
to the extent they do, why they call forth such devotion, or why 
they include so many noneconomic activities. Browning puts the 
matter in these terms : 

The existence today of a Negro economy is the result of a long process 
of evolution caused by varied factors. On the one hand was pressure 
from the outside, and on the other a nationalism within the Negro 
group ; but perhaps farthest removed in point of time was the cultural 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 165 

heritage which was filled with the cooperative spirit. This spirit of co- 
operation was not crushed during the days before the Civil War but 
emerged in the form of a Negro economy. 42 

Some instances of insurance societies in aboriginal African groups, 
and in the New World outside the United States, may be cited to 
indicate why the institutionalization of this feature of Negro life in 
the United States must be referred to the stimuli of aboriginal cus- 
tom. The cooperative work groups that are more or less ad hoc, such 
as the Dahomean dokpwe and the Haitian combitc, have been men- 
tioned ; but these only begin the tale of cooperation. Almost all perma- 
nent groupings other than kinship units possess cooperative and even 
insurance features. Mutual self-help characterizes Dahomean iron- 
-werking guilds. Each member of a "forge" accumulates such scrap 
iron as he can, and the entire membership joins in turning this iron 
into hoes or other salable objects until the supply is exhausted, when 
they turn to the materials of the next member. What has been made 
from a man's iron is his to sell as he will, and from the proceeds he 
supports himself and gets the means to buy more iron to be worked 
when his turn is again reached. It makes no difference if he is ill 
when this comes, since all will work on his iron regardless of his 
presence or absence ; in such a case his fellow members aid in dis- 
posing of his goods so that when he recovers he will be able to 
resume his normal place without any undue handicap. 

The Yoruba of Nigeria have an organization called csusu, the 
exact counterpart of a Trinidad type of institution of the same name, 
'susn. Because the gbc and so types of Dahomean groupings have 
similar features, it is reasonable to expect that further research will 
reveal more arrangements of this kind elsewhere in West Africa and 
in the New World. In Trinidad, as among the Yoruba, it makes it 
possible for a person without the initiative to carry on a systematic 
program of saving to finance projects for which he does not possess 
the ready means. A stated number of persons agree to deposit a 
certain sum each week with one of their number who, taking nothing 
for his services unless the group is large and the amounts to be 
handled are considerable, undertakes to turn over the entire weekly 
collection as taken up to a different member of the group until all 
have realized on their "hands." Difficulties naturally enter, since 
there is an excellent opportunity for dishonesty, and some suspicion 
is roused when the collector takes the first "hand." Yet despite occa- 
sional mishaps, the system works well, and is recognized in Trinidad 
law. 

Certain Dahomean forms of mutual-aid societies actually consti- 



1 66 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

tute permanent insurance societies, the gbe in particular being far 
removed from the type of organization customarily conceived as 
existing in nonliterate cultures. With elected membership and with 
ritual secrets in the manner of American lodges, such groups often 
have large followings and persist over long periods of time. Their 
primary purpose is to provide their members with adequate financial 
assistance so that at the funeral of a member's relative or, more 
importantly, of the parent of a member's spouse, he can make a 
showing in competitive giving that will bring prestige to himself and 
to his group. Each member must swear a blood oath on joining, and 
there are adequate controls over the treasurer. Each society has its 
banner, and indulges in public display of its power and resources in 
its processions, especially when it goes as a body to the funeral rit- 
uals. The prominence of assuring proper performance at funerals in 
this aboriginal insurance system is of special significance in the light 
of the important place held by burial insurance in Negro life in the 
United States, as testified by the presence of numerous of these 
"bury-leagues." 

The lodge itself, aside from its insurance features, is another ex- 
pression of the Africanlike flair for organization. Granting the 
elementary fact that Negroes in the United States, like all other 
persons here, tend to adapt their behavior to prevailing patterns, yet 
the divergences from the patterns that are found in the case of these 
lodges are especially cogent. For while it is true that many Negro 
fraternal organizations are the counterparts of white groups having 
similar names, rituals, and paraphernalia, yet the numbers of Negro 
lodges, including thos which have no counterparts among the whites, 
and their role in everyday Negro life, which far transcends their 
importance for the vast majority of white lodge members, makes 
them distinctive in the American scene. 

This is relevant to the fact that numerous other societies exist in 
Africa, taking forms and having objectives that resemble the aims 
of Negro lodges in the United States far more than is recognized. 
Not only do many of these societies have some religious basis, but 
many of them are essentially religious organizations. In one instance, 
groupings considered secret societies were found to be actually cult 
groups, whose secrets are religious secrets, whose initiatory rites are 
education in the ways of the gods, and whose public appearances in 
regalia are made on those occasions when the deities are worshiped. 
This recalls the structure and functioning of various New World 
Christian religious "orders" among Negroes, notably the Trinidad 
Baptist groups. While a direct relationship between this and the 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 167 

religious preoccupations of Negro societies of various sorts, either 
secret or economic, is difficult to envisage, it is yet entirely possible 
that something of the strong nonsecular bent of the Negro lodges 
in this country is a partial survival of this tradition. For again, it is 
the importance laid on this aspect of the "work" in the Negro lodges 
that in one respect differentiates them in degree, it must be empha- 
sized, not in kind from societies having white membership. 43 



It is well recognized that Negro family structure in the United 
States is different from the family organization of the white ma- 
jority. Outstanding are its higher illegitimacy rate and the particu- 
lar role played by the mother. Certain other elements in Negro social 
organization also make it distinctive, and these will be considered 
later; but for the moment the more prominent characteristics must 
be treated in terms of the cognate African sanctions which make 
them normal, rather than abnormal, and go far in aiding us to com- 
prehend what must otherwise, after the conventional manner, be 
regarded as aberrant aspects of the family institution. 

At the outset, it is necessary to dismiss the legal implications of 
the term "illegitimate'* and to recognize the sociological reality un- 
derlying an operational definition of the family as a socially sanc- 
tioned mating. In this case, illegitimacy is restricted to those births 
which are held outside the limits of accepted practice. The situation 
in the West Indies, projected against the African background of 
marriage rites and family structure, will here as elsewhere make for 
clarity. In West Africa, it will be remembered, preliminaries to mar- 
riage include negotiations between the families of the two contract- 
ing parties to assure all concerned that the young man and woman 
are ready for marriage, that they are competent to assume their 
obligations under it, and that no taboos in terms of closeness of ac- 
tual or putative relationship stand in the way of the match. This 
done, the young man (and in some tribes the young woman) as- 
sumes certain obligations toward his prospective father- and mother- 
in-law, which in many instances continue after marriage. In all this 
area, it is further to be recalled, the family is marked by its po- 
lygynous character, and the manner of its extension into such larger 
kinship groupings as the extended family and the sib. 

In the New World, these forms when brought into contact with 
European patterns of monogamy and the absence of wider social 
structures based on relationship have resulted in institutions which, 



i68 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

however, though differing considerably from one region to another, 
nave nonetheless become stabilized in their new manifestations. Thus 
the elaborateness of the betrothal mechanism has in several regions 
been translated into ceremonies which even when European in form 
are essentially African in feeling. The Haitian lettre de demande" 
and its counterpart in the British West Indian islands are, in their 
form and mode of presentation, entirely in the tradition of Africa. 
The survival of the polygynous marriage pattern is likewise found 
in Haiti in the distinction made between marriage and what is termed 
plagage, a system whereby a woman is given a man by her father 
but without legal or church sanction. The similar means whereby a 
man and woman in the British West Indies may form regularly 
constituted unions without the approval of church or government is 
seen in the institution of the "keeper/* 

In Haiti, at least, actual polygyny is found, though as a practical 
matter it can be practiced only by men who are wealthy and power- 
ful enough to manage their plural wives. For while it is a delicate 
task, at best, for a man to manage a polygynous household even in 
Africa, "a man must be something of a diplomat/' as one Dahomean 
put it where invidious distinctions are set up between legal and 
free matings, the tensions become greatly heightened. Therefore, 
even in Haiti, actual polygyny is rare, while elsewhere in the New 
World it takes the form of what may be termed "progressive 
monogamy/' not unlike that developed by the whites in recent years, 
though in this latter type formal divorce must precede socially sanc- 
tioned remating. Thus, while a Trinidad woman, once legally mar- 
ried, is always called "mistress/* the fact that her union is legal 
does not mean that it will be any more enduring than if she were 
to take up housekeeping with a keeper. Nor does it often occur that 
she or her husband will go to the trouble of securing a legal divorce 
should the match be broken. They merely separate, and subsequent 
keepers arc taken without regard for the legal niceties. The children 
of matings previous to or subsequent upon the "marriage" are under 
no social handicap, despite their legal illegitimacy as compared to 
those born of regularly married parents. For as elsewhere in the 
Negro New World, a child is rarely handicapped because of the na- 
ture of the relationship under which he was brought into the world; 
he stands on his own feet, and his parentage figures but slightly in 
establishing his social position. 

Another aspect of West African social organization having im- 
portant implications for the study of New World Negro kinship 
groupings concerns the place of women in the family. By its very 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 169 

nature, a polygynous system brings about a different relation be- 
tween mother and children than a monogamous type a relationship 
that goes far in bringing about an understanding of the so-called 
"matriarchal" form of the Negro family in the United States, the 
West Indies, and South America. The question most often raised in 
accounting for any African derivation of this type of family, 
wherein, unlike most white groups, the importance of the mother 
transcends that of the father, is whether this may not reflect African 
unilateral canons of sib descent. But while this fact may enter into 
the traditional residue, it is not to be regarded as playing any con- 
siderable role. In West Africa, descent is counted more often on the 
father's than on the mother's side and, as in other portions of the 
continent, the parent socially unrelated to the child is as important 
from a personal and sentimental point of view as is the one to whose 
family the child legally belongs. 

What is much more important for an understanding of the sanc- 
tions underlying this "matriarchal" Negro family type is the fact 
that in a polygynous society a child shares his mother only with his 
"true" brothers and sisters everywhere recognized as those who 
have the same father and the same mother as against the fact that 
in the day-to-day situations of home life, he shares his father with 
the children of other women. This means that the attachments be- 
tween a mother and her child are in the main closer than those 
between father and children; from the point of view of the parent, 
it means that the responsibilities of upbringing, discipline, and super- 
vision are much more the province of the mother than of the father. 
In most parts of the African areas which furnished New World 
slaves, the conventions pf. inheritance are such that a man may, and 
often does make an arbitrary selection of his heir from among his 
sons. Because of* this, there is a constant jockeying for position 
among his wives, who are concerned each with placing her children 
in the most favorable light before the common husband. The psycho- 
logical realities of life within such a polygynous household have yet 
to be studied in detail ; but that the purely human situation is such 
as to make the relationship between a mother and her children more 
intimate than that between the family head, and any but perhaps 
one or two of the offspring of the various wives who share this 
common husband and father, is a point which cannot be overesti- 
mated. 

Against this background the patterns of marriage and family or- 
ganization prevalent in the Negro communities of the United States 
may be projected, so as to indicate the points in the available litera- 



170 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

ture at which the influence of African tradition can be discerned. 
The following summary statement as concerns mating and the 
family in the southern county studied by C. S. Johnson is to the 
point : 

The postponement of marriage in the section . . . does not preclude 
courtship, but accentuates it, and gives rise to other social adjustments 
based on this obvious economic necessity. The active passions of youth 
and late adolescence are present but without the usual formal restraints. 
Social behavior rooted in this situation, even when its consequences are 
understood, is lightly censured or excused entirely. Conditions are favor- 
able to a great amount of sex experimentation. It cannot always be de- 
termined whether this experimentation is a phase of courtship, or love- 
making without the immediate intention of marriage, or recreation and 
diversion. Whether or not sexual intercourse is accepted as a part of 
courtship it is certain no one is surprised when it occurs. When pregnancy 
follows pressure is not strong enough to compel the father either to 
marry the mother or to support the child. The girl does not lose status, 
nor are her chances for marrying seriously threatened. An incidental 
compensation for this lack of censuring public opinion is the freedom 
for the children thus born from warping social condemnation. There is, 
in a sense, no such thing as illegitimacy in this community. 45 

In studying a community such as this, we are therefore faced with 
a situation where acculturation has brought on disintegration dis- 
integration due to slavery, to the present economic background of 
life, and to those psychological reactions which are the concomitants 
of life without security. Reinterpretation of earlier, pre-American 
patterns has occurred, but readjustment to normal conditions of life 
has been inhibited. We thus must recognize that the elasticity of the 
marriage concept among Negroes derives in a measure, largely un- 
recognized, from the need to adjust a polygynous family form to 
patterns based on a convention of monogamy, in a situation where 
this has been made the more difficult by economic and psychological 
complications resulting from the nature of the historical situation. 
A rich documentation exists in the way of indices which point the 
aspects of Negro social organization that differ strikingly from 
white patterns. It is only necessary to turn to the general study of the 
problem by Frazier 46 or such a specialized analysis as that of Reed 47 
to realize to what an extent the incidence of productive matings with- 
out legal status is out of line with white practices; Yet when the 
emphasis laid on the proper type of marriage proposal in the Sea 
Islands, where there is some measure of stability in Negro society, 48 
is compared with Frazier's statement that 30 per cent of the births 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 171 

on that island are illegitimate, it is apparent that here, at least, sanc- 
tions other than those of the European type are operative. Johnson's 
summary of the various forms of union found among the Negroes 
of Macon County, Georgia, provides further illustrative material : 

Children of common-law relationships are not illegitimate, from the 
point of view of the community or of their stability, for many of these 
unions are as stable as legally sanctioned unions. They hold together 
for twenty or thirty years, in some cases, and lack only the sense of 
guilt. Again, there are competent, self-sufficient women who not only 
desire children but need them as later aids in the struggle for survival 
when their strength begins to wane, but who want neither the restriction 
of formal marriage nor the constant association with a husband. They 
get their children not so much through weakness as through their own 
deliberate selection of a father. Sexual unions for pleasure frequently 
result in children. There is a term for children born under the two latter 
circumstances. They arc called "stolen children." "Stolen children," ob- 
served one mother, "is the best." A woman with children and who has 
been married though later separated from her husband may add other 
children to her family without benefit of formal sanctions. These are 
"children by the way." The youthful sex experimentation, which is in 
part related to the late marriages, often results in children. These are 
normally taken into the home of the girl's parents and treated without 
distinction as additions to the original family. Finally, there are the 
children who result from the deliberate philandering of the young men 
who "make foolmcnts" on young girls. They are universally condemned. 
These children, as circumstances direct, may be placed with the parents 
of the mother or father of the child, an uncle, sister, or grandmother. 
They are accepted easily into the families on the simple basis of life and 
eventually are indistinguishable from any of the other children. Even if 
there were severe condemnation of true "illegitimates," confusion as to 
origin would tend both to mitigate some of the offenses and to obscure 
them all from specific condemnation. 49 

What is recognizably African in all this? The "common-law rela- 
tionship" is merely a phrase for the recognition of the fact that 
matings not legally sanctioned may achieve enough stability to re- 
ceive equal recognition with regularly performed marriages. In 
Africa, and in the West Indies where Africanisms persist, marriage 
is not a matter requiring approval of the state or of any religious 
body. Only consent of the families concerned is needed, while mar- 
riage rites depart from the secular only to the extent that they are 
directed toward obtaining the benevolent oversight of the ancestors. 
Therefore Negro common-law marriages in the United States con- 
flict in no wise with earlier practices, while in so far as they require 



172 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

the approval of the families of the principals, they are, indeed, di- 
rectly in line with African custom. 

The "competent, self-sufficient women" who wish to have no hus- 
bands are of especial interest. The social and economic position of 
women in West Africa is such that on occasion a woman may refuse 
to relinquish the customary control of her children in favor of her 
husband, and this gives rise to special types of matings that are 
recognized in Dahomey and among the Yoruba, and may represent 
a pattern having a far wider distribution. The phenomenon of a 
woman "marry ing" a woman, 50 which has been reported from vari- 
ous parts of the African continent and is a part of this same com-, 
plex, testifies to the importance of a family type which might well 
have had the vitality necessary to make of it a basis for the kind of 
behavior outlined in the case of the "self-sufficient" woman who, in 
the United States, desires children but declines to share them with 
a husband. The same traditional basis exists for "children by the 
way," those offspring of women, once married, by men other than 
their husbands. 

In the community studied by Powdermaker, types of mating and 
attitudes toward them have likewise been differentiated : 

For this group, there are three ways in which a man and woman may 
live together : licensed marriage, solemnized by a ceremony, usually in a 
church ; common-law marriage ; and temporary association, not regarded 
as marriage. For the large majority of the households the form is 
common-law marriage, which is legally valid in Mississippi. Of the re- 
mainder, temporary matings are probably more numerous than licensed 
marriages. Most of the latter are in the upper and the upper middle 
class. Temporary mating is most easily countenanced in the lower class, 
though it is not uncommon in the middle class. A licensed marriage in 
the lower or lower middle class is extremely rare. A common-law mar- 
riage in the upper class is even more so ; and in this class for two people 
to live together with no pretense of real marriage would be extremely 
shocking. 51 

The approach to this problem through the analysis of mores which 
differ according to classes within the Negro community is especially 
pertinent, for these classes represent differing degrees of accultura- 
tion to majority patterns. This being the case, then the variations in 
attitude and behavior concerning the family from one class to another 
reflect differentials in accommodation in 30 far as this institution is 
concerned. 

This is made even clearer by the discussion of attitudes toward 
divorce : 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 173 

Even the few members of the upper middle class who are regularly 
married do not as a rule consider it necessary to go through court pro- 
cedure in order to be divorced from a former mate and free to marry 
another. It is not regarded as immoral to remarry without securing a 
divorce, since in this class the marriage license is not a matter of morals, 
and marriage itself is highly informal. Divorce proceedings are expen- 
sive, and involve dealing with a white court, which no Negro chooses if 
he can avoid them. Thus a legal divorce becomes something more than 
a luxury; it savors of pretension and extravagance. 52 

Here is evidence of lag under acculturation. Sanctioned divorce is a 
comparatively recent introduction into white mores, and has been 
superimposed upon a complex of quasi-puritanical religious and 
social prohibitions. This antecedent patterning being absent from 
aboriginal and early New World Negro conventions, the attitude 
toward legal divorce as a pretension and an extravagance is under- 
standable. For under Negro conventions, operative in Africa and 
in the New World generally, there is little social disapprobation of 
divorce. Consequently, in terms of a carry-over of this point of view, 
legal divorce is needless, since separation and subsequent remating 
(if not remarriage) is taken more or less for granted. 

The other major difference between Negro family organization 
and that of the white majority touches on thq position of women 
within the family. So important is the role of the woman when 
compared to that of the man, in terms of common American con- 
vention, that the adjective "matriarchal" has come to be employed 
in recent years when describing this family type. Statistical reports 
bear out common observation concerning the phenomenon : 

The 1930 census showed a larger proportion of families with women 
heads among Negroes than among whites in both rural and urban areas. 
Moreover, it also appeared that in the cities a larger proportion of 
Negro families were under the authority of the woman than in the 
rural areas. In the rural non-farm areas of the southern states from 15 
to 25 per cent of the Negro families were without male heads; while in 
the rural-farm areas the proportion ranged from 3 to 15 per cent. In the 
rural- farm areas tenant families had a much smaller proportion with 
woman heads than owners, except in those states where a modified form 
of plantation regime is the dominant type of farming. For example, in 
the rural-farm area of Alabama between 13 and 14 per cent of both 
tenant and owner families were without male heads. 53 

Some further statistics are also relevant : 

In southern cities the disparity between whites and Negroes in re- 
spect to the proportion of families with woman heads is much greater. 



174 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

In the twenty-three southern cities with a population of 100,000 or 
more in 1930, from a fifth to a third of all Negro families had a female 
head. However, in most of these southern cities, the difference between 
owner and tenant Negro families in this regard was much greater than 
in northern cities. 54 

Of the several classifications of Negro family types which take 
the position of the woman into account, two may be cited. The first 
concerns the family as it exists at the present time among the Negro 
urban workers : 

The status of husband and wife in the black worker's family assumes 
roughly three patterns. Naturally, among the relatively large percentage 
of families with women heads, the woman occupies a dominant position. 
But, because of the traditional role of the black wife as a contributor to 
the support of the family, she continues to occupy a position of authority 
and is not completely subordinate to masculine authority even in those 
families where the man is present. . . . The entrance of the black 
worker in industry where he has earned comparatively good wages has 
enabled the black worker's wife to remain at home. Therefore, the au- 
thority of the father in the family has been strengthened, and the wife 
has lost some of her authority in family matters. . . . Wives as well as 
children are completely subject to the will of the male head. However, 
especially in southern cities, the black worker's authority in his family 
may be challenged by his mother-in-law. 55 

Johnson has differentiated family types in the rural region studied 
by him into another set of categories. Noting the fact that in terms 
of the commonly accepted pattern wherein the father is head of the 
family, "the families of this area are, . . . considerably atypical," 
since, "in the first place, the role of the mother is of much greater 
importance than in the more familiar American group," he goes 
on to distinguish three kinds of families. First come those "which 
are fairly stable" and are "sensitive to certain patterns of respecta- 
bility 1 ; then there are those termed "artificial quasi- families" that 
"have the semblance of a normal and natural family, and function 
as one," except that "the members of the group are drawn into it 
by various circumstances rather than being a product of the original 
union" ; and finally the form is found where "the male head remains 
constant while other types of relationship, including a succession 
of wives and their children by him, shift around him." 56 In addition 
to these, however, are the families headed by women: 

The numbers of households with old women as heads and large num- 
bers of children, although of irregular structure, is sufficiently impor- 
tant to be classed as a type. . . . The oldest generation is the least 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 175 

mobile, the children of these in the active ages move about freely and 
often find their own immediate offspring, while young, a burden, as they 
move between plantations. Marriages and remarriages bring increasing 
numbers of children who may be a burden to the new husband or a hin- 
drance to the mother if she must become a wage-earner. The simplest 
expedient is to leave them with an older parent to rear. This is usually 
intended as a temporary measure, but it most often ends in the estab- 
lishment of a permanent household as direct parental support dwindles 
down. The responsibility is accepted as a matter of course by the older 
woman and she thereafter employs her wits to keep the artificial family 
going. 57 

Powdermaker likewise notes the elasticity of families headed by 
women, and indicates how congenial this pattern is to Negroes living 
in various social and environmental settings: 

The personnel of these matriarchal families is variable and even cas- 
ual. Step-children, illegitimate children, adopted children, mingle with 
the children of the house. No matter how small or crowded the home is, 
there is always room for a stray child, an elderly grandmother, an in- 
digent aunt, a homeless friend . . . The pattern of flexibility, however, 
expanding and contracting the household according to need is not re- 
stricted to the poorer and more crowded homes. A typical family of the 
upper middle class is headed by a prosperous widow, who in her early 
twenties married a man over sixty years old. He was considered very 
wealthy and had been married several times before. The household now 
includes his widow's eleven-year-old daughter (an illegitimate child 
born before she met her husband), the dead husband's granddaughter 
by one of his early marriages, and the granddaughter's two children, 
two and three years old. The granddaughter was married but is divorced 
from her husband. Everyone in the household carries the same family 
name. 58 

It is evident that this so-called "maternal" family of the Negro is 
a marked deviant from what is regarded as conventional by the 
white majority. Yet it must not be forgotten that the economic and 
social role of the man in Negro society is of the utmost significance 
in rounding out the picture of Negro social life. Though important 
from the point of view of the search for Africanisms, interest in 
the position of women in the family must not obscure perspective 
so as to preclude the incidence and role of those families wherein 
the common American pattern is followed. Despite the place of 
women in the West African family, the unit holds a prominent 
place for the husband and father who, as head of the polygynous 
group, is the final authority over its members, sharing fully in all 



176 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

those obligations which the family must meet if it is to survive and 
hold its place in the stable society of which it forms a part. 

With this point in mind, certain further special characteristics of 
the Negro family may be considered before the causes which may 
best account for its place in Negro life are analyzed. Outstanding 
among these is the fact that an older woman frequently gives the 
group its unity and coherence. Frazier indicates the following sanc- 
tions in explaining the place of such elderly females in Negro 
families : 

The Negro grandmother's importance is due to the fact not only that 
she has been the "oldest head'* in a maternal family organization but 
also to her position as "granny" or midwife among a simple peasant folk. 
As the repository of folk wisdom concerning the inscrutable ways of 
nature, the grandmother has been depended upon by mothers to ease the 
pains of childbirth and ward off the dangers of ill luck. Children ac- 
knowledge their indebtedness to her for assuring them, during the crisis 
of birth, a safe entrance into the world. Even grown men and women 
refer to her as a second mother and sometimes show the same deference 
and respect for her that they accord their own mothers. 59 

The question whether or not an explanation of the importance of 
old women in these terms is valid may be deferred for the moment ; 
that it is not only among the "simple peasant folk'* of the country- 
side that she wields her power but in the city as well is to be seen 
from the following : 

The Negro grandmother has not ceased to watch over the destiny of 
the Negro families as they have moved in ever increasing numbers to 
the cities during the present century. For example, she was present in 
61 of the families of 342 junior high school students in Nashville. In 
25 of these a grandfather was also present. But in 24 of the remaining 
36 families, we find her in 8 families with only the mother of the children, 
in 7 with only the father, and in 9 she was the only adult member. 60 

How large these family groups headed by old women may be, and 
from how many sources their members may be drawn, is to be seen 
in the description of one such family given by Powdermaker : 

A larger household is presided over by a woman of seventy-five. She 
has had two husbands, both dead now, and nine children, two of them 
born before she met her first husband. Her second husband had seven 
children by a previous marriage. She brought up three of them. Living 
with her now are the son and daughter of her second husband's daugh- 
ter by a previous marriage. Each of these step-grandchildren is married. 
The two young couples pay no rent, but "board" themselves. In the 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 177 

house also is a nine-year-old boy, the illegitimate child of a granddaugh- 
ter. After this child was born, his mother left his father and went north 
with another man. The grandmother paid the railroad fare for the child 
to be sent back to Mississippi. 01 

The fact, likewise noted by Powclermaker, that "among Negroes 
household and family are on the whole considered synonymous" 
indicates how far flexibility may go; only boarders were excluded 
from membership in the families studied by her. 

What are the causes which, in the United States, have brought 
into being a type of family organization that is so distinctive when 
compared with the common family pattern? The preceding discus- 
sion makes it clear that no single reason will account for its estab- 
lishment and persistence. Explanations based on assumptions of a 
theoretical nature concerning the origin of the human family may 
be dismissed out of hand, since the validity of such propositions 
has been successfully challenged many times both on methodological 
and on historical grounds. Thus when Puckett points out that, 

It is also rather noticeable that in the Negro folk-songs, mother and 
child are frequently sung of, hut seldom father possibly pointing back 
to the African love for the mother and the uncertainty and slight con- 
sideration of fatherhood . . , 02 

the only possible comment is that his conception of African attitudes 
and the facts of African family life is false in the light of known 
facts. Similarly, when Frazier speaks of the "maternal family" as 
representing "in its purest and most primitive manifestation a nat- 
ural family group similar to what Briffault has described as the 
original or earliest form of the human family," 63 he is merely re- 
peating poor anthropology. 

One of the most popular explanations of the aberrant forms taken 
by the Negro family is by reference to the experience of slavery. 
A less extreme example of this position, conventionally phrased, is 
to be found in Johnson's work. Noting that the role of the mother 
is of "much greater importance than that in the more familiar Amer- 
ican group," he goes on to state: 

This has some explanation in the slave origins of these families. Chil- 
dren usually remained with the mother ; the father was incidental and 
could very easily be sold away. The role of mother could be extended to 
that of "mammy'* for the children of white families. 04 

Frazier has presented this point of view at greater length. One 
statement reads: 



178 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

We have spoken of the mother as the mistress of the cabin and as the 
head of the family. . . . Not only did she have a more fundamental 
interest in her children than the father but, as a worker and a free agent, 
except where the master's will was concerned, she developed a spirit of 
independence and a keen sense of her personal rights. 05 

"In spite of the numerous separations," it is stated, "the slave 
mother and her children, especially those under ten, were treated as 
a group" ; 66 while, "because of the dependence of the children upon 
the mother it appears that the mother and smaller children were 
sold together." 67 To make the point, slave advertisements such as the 
following are cited : 

A Wench, complete cook, washer and ironer, and her four children 
a Boy 12, another 9, a Girl 5 that sews; and a Girl about 4 years old. 
Another family a Wench, complete washer and ironer, and her Daugh- 
ter, 14 years old, accustomed to the house. 68 

These citations are not made to suggest that due attention has not 
been paid to the place of the father in the slave family, though it is 
undoubtedly true that he has received less study than has the mother 
in research into the derivation of present-day family types among 
the Negroes. The fact of the matter, however, is that the roles of 
both parents were individually determined, varying not only from 
region to region and plantation to plantation, but also being affected 
by the reactions of individual personalities on one another. Not 
only was the father a significant factor during slaving, but a reading 
of the documents will reveal how the selling of children even very 
young children away from their mothers is stressed again and 
again as one of the most anguishing aspects of the slave trade. 
Whether in the case of newly arrived Negroes sold from the slave 
ships or of slaves born in this country and sold from the plantations, 
there was not the slightest guarantee than a mother would not be 
separated from her children. The impression obtained from the con- 
temporary accounts, indeed, is that the chances were perhaps more 
than even that separation would occur. This means, therefore, that, 
though the mechanism ordinarily envisaged in establishing this 
"maternal" family was operative to some degree, the role of slav- 
ery cannot be considered as having been quite as important as has 
been assumed. 

The total economic situation of the Negro was another active 
force in establishing and maintaining the "maternal" family type. 
No considerable amount of data are available as to the inner eco- 
nomic organization of Negro families, but the forms of Negro 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 179 

family life themselves suggest that the female members of such 
families, and especially the elderly women, exercise appreciable con- 
trol over economic resources. That the economic role of the women 
not only makes of them managers but also contributors whose earn- 
ings are important assets is likewise apparent. This economic aspect 
of their position is described by Johnson in the following terms: 

The situation of economic dependence of women in cities is reversed 
in this community, and is reflected rather strikingly in the economic 
independence on the part of the Negro women in the country. Their 
earning power is not very much less than that of the men, and for those 
who do not plan independent work there is greater security in their own 
family organization where many hands contribute to the raising of cotton 
and of food than there is for them alone with a young and inexperienced 
husband. 69 

In Mississippi the following obtains in plantation families: 

In many cases the woman is the sole breadwinner. Often there is no 
man in the household at all. In a number of instances, elderly women in 
their seventies and their middle-aged daughters with or without children 
and often without husbands, form one household with the old woman as 
head. 70 

It is to be expected that such a situation will be reflected in 
property ownership : 

In this town of a little more than three thousand inhabitants, . . . 
202 colored people own property. The assessed value for the majority 
of these holdings ranges from $300 to $600. Of the 202 owners, 100 are 
men, owning property valued at $61,250, and 93 are women, with hold- 
ings valued at $57,460. Nine men and women own jointly property 
totaling 83280 in value. Among the Whites also, about half the owners 
are women. When White women are owners, it usually means that a 
man has put his property in his wife's name so that it cannot be touched 
if he gets into difficulty. Among the Negroes, many women bought the 
property themselves, with their own earnings. 71 

Of the high proportion of holdings by men in the more favored 
socio-economic group of Negroes, it is stated, "if more property 
were owned by Negroes in the lower strata, there would probably be 
a higher percentage of female ownership.'' Yet as it is, the percent- 
age would seem to be sufficiently high in terms of current American 
economic patterns, especially since, as stated, Negro women actually 
bought and hold their property for themselves rather than for their 
husbands, as is the common case among the whites. 

The absence of any reference to African background in the cita- 



i8o THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

tions concerning Negro families headed by women is merely another 
instance of the tendency to overlook the fact that the Negro was 
the carrier of a preslavery tradition. It is in the writings dealing 
with this aspect of Negro life that we find truncated history in its 
most positive expression, since in this field the existence of an 
African past has been recognized only in terms of such denials of its 
vitality as were cited in the opening pages of this work. Yet the 
aspects of Negro family which diverge most strikingly from pat- 
terns of the white majority are seen to deviate in the direction of 
resemblances to West African family life. 

It cannot be regarded only as coincidence that such specialized 
features of Negro family life in the United States as the role of 
women in focusing the sentiment that gives the family unit its 
psychological coherence, or their place in maintaining the economic 
stability essential to survival, correspond closely to similar facets 
of West African social structure. And this becomes the more ap- 
parent when we investigate the inner aspects of the family structure 
of Negroes in the New World outside the United States. Though 
everywhere the father has his place, the tradition of paternal con- 
trol and the function of the father as sole or principal provider es- 
sential to the European pattern is deviated from. In the coastal re- 
gion of the Guianas, for example, the mother and grandmother are 
essentially the mainstays of the primary relationship group. A man 
obtains his soul from his father, but his affections and his place 
in society are derived from his mother ; a person's home is his 
mother's, and though matings often endure, a man's primary affilia- 
tion is to the maternal line. In Trinidad, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, 
or elsewhere in the Caribbean, should parents separate, the children 
characteristically remain with their mother, visiting their father 
from time to time if they stay on good terms with him. 

The woman here is likewise an important factor in the economic 
scene. The open-air market is the effective agent in the retail dis- 
tributive process, and business, as in West Africa, is principally in 
the hands of women. It is customary for them to handle the family 
resources, and their economic independence as traders makes for their 
personal independence, something which, within the family, gives 
them power such as is denied to women who, in accordance with the 
prevalent European custom, are dependent upon their husbands for 
support. In both West Africa and the West Indies the women, hold- 
ing their economic destinies in their own hands, are fully capable of 
going their own ways if their husbands displease them; not being 
hampered by any conception of marriage as an ultimate commit- 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 181 

ment, separation is easily effected and a consequent fluidity in fam- 
ily personnel such as has been noted in the preceding pages of this 
section results. Now if to this complex is added the tradition of a 
sentimental attachment to the mother, derived from the situation 
within the polygynous households of West Africa, ample justification 
appears for holding that the derivations given for Negro family life 
by most students of the Negro family in the United States present 
serious gaps. 

As in the case of most other aspects of Negro life, the problem 
becomes one of evaluating multiple forces rather than placing reli- 
ance on simpler explanations. From the point of view of the search 
for Africanisms, the status of the Negro family at present is thus 
to be regarded as the result of the play of various forces in the 
New World experience of the Negro, projected against a back- 
ground of aboriginal tradition. Slavery did not cause the "maternal" 
family; but it tended to continue certain elements in the cultural 
endowment brought to the New World by the Negroes. The feeling 
between mother and children was reinforced when the father was 
sold away from the rest of the family; where he was not, he con- 
tinued life in a way that tended to consolidate the obligations as- 
sumed by him in the integrated societies of Africa as these obliga- 
tions were reshaped to fit the monogamic, paternalistic pattern of 
the white masters. That the plantation system did not differentiate 
beween the sexes in exploiting slave labor tended, again, to reinforce 
the tradition of the part played by women in the tribal economics. 

Furthermore, these African sanctions have been encouraged by 
the position of the Negro since freedom. As underprivileged mem- 
bers of society, it has been necessary for Negroes to continue call- 
ing on all the labor resources in their families if the group was to 
survive; and this strengthened woman's economic independence. In 
a society fashioned like that of the United States, economic inde- 
pendence for women means sexual independence, as is evidenced by 
the personal lives of white women from the upper socio-economic 
levels of society., This convention thus fed back into the tradition of 
the family organized about and headed by women, continuing and 
reinforcing it as time went on. And it is for these reasons that 
those aspects of Negro family life that depart from majority pat- 
terns are to be regarded as residues of African custom. Families 
of this kind are not African, it is true; they are, however, impor- 
tant as comprehending certain African survivals. For they not only 
illustrate the tenacity of the traditions of Africa under the changed 
conditions of New World life, but also in larger perspective indicate 



182 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

how, in the acculturative situation, elements new to aboriginal cus- 
tom can reinforce old traditions, while at the same time helping to 
accommodate a people to a setting far different from that of their 
original milieu. 

It will be recalled that at the outset of this section it was stated 
that other survivals than those to which attention has been given 
thus far are betokened by certain facts mentioned more or less in 
passing in the literature. One of these concerns the size of the re- 
lationship group. The African immediate family, consisting of a 
father, his wives, and their children, is but a part of a larger unit. 
This immediate family is generally recognized by Africanists as 
belonging to a local relationship group termed the 4 'extended fam- 
ily/' while a series of these extended families, in turn, comprise the 
the matrilineal or patrilineal sibs, often totemic in sanction, which 
are the effective agents in administering the controls of the ancestral 
cult. 

That such larger relationship groupings might actually exist in 
the United States was indicated during the course of a study of the 
physical anthropology of Mississippi Negroes, where, because of the 
emphasis placed on the genetic aspects of the problem being studied, 
entire families were measured wherever possible. 72 In the town of 
Amory (Monroe County) and its surrounding country, 639 persons 
representing 171 families were studied, the word "family" in this 
context signifying those standing in primary biological relationship 
parents, children, and grandchildren, but not collateral relatives. 
How large the kinship units of wider scope are found to be in this 
area, however, is indicated by one group of related immediate fam- 
ilies which comprised 141 individuals actually measured. Such mat- 
ters as how many more persons this particular unit includes and 
its sociological implications cannot be stated, since no opportunity 
to probe its cultural significance has presented itself. The mere fact 
that a feeling of kinship as widespread as this exists among a group 
whose ancestors were carriers of a tradition wherein the larger rela- 
tionship units are as important as in Africa does, however, give this 
case importance as a lead for future investigation. 

Instances of similarly extensive relationship groupings are occa- 
sionally encountered in the literature. A description of one of these 
corresponds in almost every detail to the pattern of the extended 
family in West African patrilineal tribes : 

The other community, composed of black families who boast of pure 
African ancestry, grew out of a family of five brothers, former slaves, 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 183 

and is known as "Blacktown," after the name of the family. Although 
the traditions of this community do not go back as far as those of White- 
town, the group has exhibited considerable pride in its heritage and has 
developed as an exclusive community under the discipline of the oldest 
male in the family. The founder of the community, the father of our 
informant, was reared in the house of his master. . . . The boundaries 
of the present community are practically the same as those of the old 
plantation, a part of which is rented. . . . But most of the land is 
owned by this Negro family. The oldest of the five brothers was, until 
his death fifteen years ago, the acknowledged head of the settlement. 
At present the next oldest brother is recognized as the head of the com- 
munity. His two sons, one of whom was our informant, have never di- 
vided their 138 acres. He and his three brothers, with their children 
numbering between forty and fifty and their numerous grandchildren, 
are living in the settlement. Twelve of their children have left the 
county, and three are living in a near-by town. Our informant left the 
community thirty-four years ago and worked at a hotel in Boston and 
as a longshoreman in Philadelphia, but returned after five years away 
because he was needed by the old folks and longed for the association 
of his people. One of the sons of the five brothers who founded the 
settlement is both the teacher of the school and pastor of the church 
which serve the needs of the settlement. 73 

This passage is to be compared with the account of the formation 
and later constitution of the Dahomean "collectivity" and extended 
family. 74 In such matters as the inheritance of headship from the 
eldest sibling to his next in line, in the retained identity of the fam- 
ily land as a part of the mechanism making for retention of identity 
by the relationship group itself, and in the relatively small propor- 
tion of members who leave their group, immediate correspondences 
will be discerned. 

Like the neighboring "Whitetown" both these terms are ficti- 
tious, but the communities are presumably located in Virginia 
sanctions and controls are to be seen such as mark off the African 
extended family group, succession from elder brother to younger 
being especially striking in this regard. This kind of "extended" 
family is also found among the racially mixed stock who, descended 
from freed Negroes, comprise the population of Whitetown: 

At present there are in the settlement ten children and thirty grand- 
children of our informant. His brother, who also lives in the settlement, 
has six children and one grandchild. Working under the control and 
direction of the head of the settlement, the children and grandchildren 
raise cotton, corn, peanuts, peas and tobacco. In this isolated community 
with its own school this familv has lived for over a century. . . . These 



1 84 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

closely knit families have been kept under the rigorous discipline of the 
older members and still have scarcely any intercourse with the black 
people in the county. 75 

Botume writes of the strangeness to her, a white northerner, of 
this tradition of extended familial affiliation in the Sea Islands dur- 
ing the Civil War : 

It was months before I learned their family relations. The terms 
"bubber" for brother, and "titty" for sister, with "nanna" for mother 
and "mother" for grandmother, and father for all leaders in church and 
society, were so generally used, I was forced to believe that they all 
belonged to one immense family. 70 

It is not unreasonable to suppose that this passage is indicative of 
survival, on the islands, of the classificatory terminology so widely 
employed in West Africa, though this, as well as the entire prob- 
lem of the wider ramifications of kinship among Negroes in the 
United States, remains for future research. On the basis of such 
data as have been cited, however, African tradition must in the 
meantime be held as prominent among those forces which made for 
the existence of a sense of kinship among Negroes that is active 
over a far wider range of relationship than among whites. 

What vestiges of totemic belief have persisted in the United States 
cannot be said. Certainly no relationship groups among Negroes 
claiming descent from some animal, plant, or natural phenomenon, 
in the classic manner of this institution, have been noted in the 
literature. But what may be termed the "feel" given by certain atti- 
tudes toward food may perhaps be indicative of a certain degree 
of retention of this African concept. Firsthand inquiry among 
Negroes has brought to light a surprising number of cases where 
a certain kind of meat veal, pork, and lamb among others is 
not eaten by a given person. Inquiry usually elicits the response, 
"It doesn't agree with me," and only in one or two instances did 
the inhibition seem to extend to relatives. Yet this fact that viola- 
tion of a personal food taboo derived from the totemic animal in 
West Africa and in Dutch Guiana is held to bring on illness, espe- 
cially skin eruptions, strikes one immediately as at least an inter- 
esting coincidence and perhaps as a hint toward a survival deriving 
from this element in African social organization, since it is so com- 
pletely foreign to European patterns. Puckett records a statement 
published by Bergen in 1899 that, "Some Negroes will not eat lamb 
because the lamb represents Christ" 1 ; 77 and this may be an instance 
of that syncretism which is so fundamental a mechanism in the 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 185 

acculturative process undergone by New World Negroes. Systematic 
inquiry concerning kinds of foods not eaten by given persons, the 
reasons or rationalizations which explain these avoidances, and par- 
ticularly whether or not such taboos are held by entire families and 
if so, how they are transmitted, are badly needed. Such data, when 
available, should provide information which will tell whether or not 
this one aspect of an important African belief has had the strength 
to survive, in no matter how distorted a form, even where contact 
with European custom has been greatest and retention of aboriginal 
custom made most difficult. 

Before considering other survivals of African culture, a point 
which touches upon certain practical implications of the materials 
dealt with in this section may be mentioned. At the outset of this 
discussion, it was noted that stress on values peculiar to Euro- 
American tradition has tended seriously to derogate the customary 
usages of Negroes which depart from the modes of life accepted 
by the majority. It was also pointed out that when the logical con- 
clusions to be drawn from the position taken are accepted by Negroes 
themselves, this tends to destroy such sanctions as the Negroes may 
have developed, and injects certain added psychological difficulties 
into a situation that is at best difficult enough. Comment along these 
lines becomes especially pertinent when one encounters a passage 
such as the following, where the disavowal of a cultural heritage is 
emphasized by the assumptions mirrored in its phrases : 

These settlements ... of ... higher economic status . . . and . . . 
deeply rooted patriarchal family traditions . . . represent the highest 
development of a moral order and a sacred society among the rural 
Negro population. This development has been possible because economic 
conditions have permitted . . . germs of culture, which have been 
picked up by Negro families, to take root and grow. 78 

The community referred to does not matter; it is the use of a figure 
which envisages a people "picking up" "germs of culture/' to name 
but one such to be found in these lines, that gives us pause. To 
accept as "moral" only those values held moral by the whites, to 
regard as "culture" only those practices that have the sanctions of a 
European past is a contributory factor in the process of devaluation, 
if only because to draw continually such conclusions has so cumula- 
tive an effect. A peppje_^c.ithput a past are a people, who lack an 
JjUK hQT in_tb p preset- And recognition of this is essential if the 
psychological foundations of the interracial situation in this country 



186 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

are to be probed for their fullest significance, and proper and effec- 
tive correctives for its stresses are to be achieved. 



Numerous beliefs, attitudes, and modes of behavior centering 
about children that have been reported from the United States point 
to African counterparts. But it must be made clear that such general 
matters as the great desire of Negroes for children and the affection 
which eventuates on occasion in the greatest sacrifices for the young 
of their households are outside the range of such counterparts. For 
in all human societies well-recognized biological drives are every- 
where rationalized into active desire for offspring, and everywhere 
there must at least be a benevolent tolerance of the young if the 
group is to survive. As a matter of fact, such statements should 
never have required mention were it not that echoes arc still heard 
of the polemics between supporters of the slave system and its oppo- 
nents, wherein the former on occasion maintained that the Negro 
was a creature without sentiment toward his young. The need for 
serious consideration of such assertions is past; their historic role 
once recognized, they can be dismissed with mere statement. 

That both prestige and economic advantage go with a large fam- 
ily, and that the desire for children in these terms is not generalized 
but definitely channeled, is important in terms of our major concern. 
In the New World everywhere, as in West Africa, situations en- 
tirely comparable to those indicated in the following passage are to 
be encountered : 

In a system which requires the labor of the entire family to earn a 
living, children of a certain age are regarded as an economic asset. They 
come fast, and there is little conscious birth control. The coming of 
children is the "Lord's will." . . . There is pride in large families. 
"Good breeders" are regarded with admiration. One woman quoted a 
doctor as explaining that she was "sickly" because she "needed to breed." 
For men the size of the family is a test of virility and for the women 
fecundity has tremendous weight in their valuation as mates. 70 

In most parts of the area from which the slaves came a woman 
without children is socially handicapped. And while the system of 
polygyny does not place on a single woman the burden of providing 
the large family that will give a man prestige in this world and 
security of position in the next, and hence births per woman are 
perhaps lower than would otherwise be the case, regard for children 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 187 

as testimony of a man's virility and as a valuable economic asset 
are deep-rooted African tenets. 

Adoption as a means of enlarging the family is widespread in 
Africa AlfdthrNew World. Johnson explains the validations for the 
tradition in these terms : 

Children after a certain age are ... an economic asset. Childless 
couples, for whatever reason, have not the social standing in the com- 
munity of families with children. The breaking-up of families, through 
desertion or migration, results in the turning-over of children to rela- 
tives or friends, and since little distinction of treatment enters, they 
soon are indistinguishable from the natural children, and assist them by 
dividing the load of heavy families. Moreover, adoption is related to 
illegitimacy, and frequently the children in families which are referred 
to as adopted are really the illegitimate offspring of one's own daughter 
or neighbor's daughter. The child of an unmarried daughter becomes 
another addition to the children of the parents of the girl with all the 
obligations. Discipline is in the hands of the original parents and the 
young mother's relationship to her son is in most respects the same as 
her relationship to her younger brother. These children call her by her 
first name and refer to their natural grandparents as "mamma" and 
"papa. 1 ' It has happened that men have adopted into their legitimate 
families extra-legal children by other women, and with no apparent dis- 
tinction that would make them unfavorably conspicuous among the other 
children. Again, children orphaned by any circumstances are spontane- 
ously taken into childless families. 80 

The same writer further comments on the phenomenon : 

Adoption ... is commonly a convenience for children without the 
protection of a family organization of their own. A motherly old woman 
said : "These chillun here, they mother in Plaza. They father somewhere 
'bout near here. They all got the same mother but different fathers. The 
two oldest ones was born 'fore they mother married. I tuk them all soon 
atta they was born." Older families, and especially old and widowed 
women, look upon adoption as more of a privilege than a burden : "Lord, 
I almost like to not be able to raise me that child; he was so sickly at 
first." The sentiment is sometimes carried to the point of surrounding 
the child with an importance which many children in normal families 
lack. 81 

In Mississippi, a similar incidence and importance of adoption has 
been reported : 

It has been remarked that the adopted and illegitimate children in- 
cluded in so many Negro households are considered full members of 
the family. Adoption is practically never made legal, and is referred to 



i88 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

as "giving" the children away. One of the several reasons for so fre- 
quently giving children away is the repeated breaking up of families 
and the inability or unwillingness of the remaining mate to care for 
them. Because of the strong desire most people have for children, there 
is always someone ready to take them in. . . . Except in the small 
upper class, a child practically always calls the woman who adopts him 
"mother/' This is done even when the real mother is one of the house- 
hold, which would occur chiefly in cases of adoption by a grandmother. 
. . . Whatever the motivation of the adoption, there is no attempt to 
conceal their origin from adopted children. Even if the attempt took 
place in early infancy, they usually know they have been given away, 
and adults have no hesitation in talking about it before them. No stigma 
attached to giving a child, it is an accepted procedure. Nor is it ordi- 
narily considered a misfortune to be a "gift child/' As a rule no differ- 
ence is made between them and the children of the house, although a 
case has been quoted in which a woman felt that she had been made to 
work harder than her aunt's own children. The children seldom evince 
any sense of being outsiders. s - 

That the pattern of adoption in these Negro communities differs 
from the conventions concerning adoption operating in white groups 
in this country is apparent without further analysis. The problem 
thus once again becomes that of accounting for the distinctive qual- 
ity of Negro custom. The data in hand are unfortunately neither 
sufficient nor effectively enough placed in their cultural matrix to 
permit conclusions to be drawn without further field research into 
the ethnology of at least a few Negro communities in the United 
States. Yet on the basis of comparative background materials, even 
such general statements as have been quoted make it clear that the 
principle of multiple causation is to be employed if a realistic anal- 
ysis is to result. Slavery and the present economic and social scene, 
while effective forces, again preserved and continued the force of 
aboriginal tradition in this as in other aspects of Negro social life. 

Reports of procedures in connection with childbirth 83 consist 
mainly of scattered references to isolated items of folk custom. No 
account of the birth of a child in a Negro village, where only the 
midwives and other elderly women available were in attendance, has 
been published in its full context, but only fragments of total proce- 
dure, principally "beliefs" of one kind or another. Many of these, 
it should be said at once, seem of themselves to present a blend of 
European and African elements of folk belief such as might be 
expected under contact of two cultures having a common sub- 
stratum. Such measures as placing iron under the bed at parturition 
so as to ease birth pangs, however, or refraining from sweeping out 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 189 

ashes until some time after the child has been born are the coun- 
terparts of procedures recorded in various portions of West Africa. 
The use of cobwebs as a means of stopping hemorrhage is found 
in Africa, where dressings of this material are commonly used both 
there and in the New World tropics to stop bleeding. The care 
used in disposing of the placenta and the treatment of the navel cord 
are also largely African. 84 

Certain Negro attitudes reported from the United States toward 
abnormal births are highly specific in their African reference. Twins, 
the child after twins, children born with teeth or with a caul or 
other peculiarities are, among African folk, regarded as special types 
of personalities whose spiritual potency calls for special treatment. 85 
Equally widespread is the African belief that special measures must 
be taken against malevolent spirits believed to cause a woman to 
have a series of miscarriages or stillbirths, or consistently over a 
period of time to bear infants who die one after the other. Among 
the Geechee Negroes of Georgia, 86 it is believed that, "if you cannot 
raise your children, bury on its face the last one to die and those 
coming after will live." A technique of tricking the malevolent 
spirits, described as occurring among these Georgia Negroes, is 
equally African: "If you wish to raise your newborn child, sell it 
to someone for 10 or 25 cents and your child will live." A case is 
cited to illustrate the custom : 

A woman, the mother of 16 children, lost the first 10. The tenth one 
was buried on its face, and the other six, as they were born, were raised 
without difficulty. This woman's daughter lost her first two children, but 
the third was sold, and it lived. 87 

Puckett, who has also included this case in his discussion of Negro 
folk beliefs, has recognized its African character from a passage he 
quotes from Talbot in support of his contention. 88 Customs of this 
nature are, however, spread much more widely than just in the 
Niger Delta area, being found far to the east and west of that 
region. 

The African concept that anomalous births indicate the future 
powers of a child is also a living belief in this country. Parsons 
states : 

One born "foot fo'mos' " or a twin cannot be kept in bonds. "You 
kyan* put um clown in de pail, come right out." If you tie him, he will 
"cross his feet, sleep, rise right up an' go 'way; take out his han' an* 
feet, rope don' go loose. He stay dere as long as he not aworried. In 
confusion (trouble) de oder twin loose him, my gran'moder say, an' de 



190 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

sperit loose him dat born foot fo'mos'." I heard of one remarkable child 
born foot foremost and "in double caul." 89 

Steiner reported a Georgia Negro who, having been born with a 
caul, attributed to this fact his possession of two spirits, one that 
remained in his body and one that went about aiding him, 90 this 
being also reminiscent of the African belief in multiple souls. 
Puckett gives a further list of traits which at birth indicate the 
baby's fate or future powers, 91 which are likewise of African deriva- 
tion and are to be encountered throughout the Negro West Indies 
as well as in the United States. 

Names are of great importance in West Africa. Names are given 
at stated periods in an individual's life, and, as among all folk 
where magic is important, the identification of a "real" name with 
the personality of its bearer is held to be so complete that this "real" 
name, usually the one given him at birth by a particular relative, 
must be kept secret lest it come into the hands of someone who might 
use it in working evil magic against him. That is why, among 
Africans, a person's name may in so many instances change with 
time, a new designation being assumed on the occasion of some 
striking occurrence in his life, or when he goes through one of the 
rites marking a new stage in his development. 

No great amount of information is to be found concerning the 
circumstances under which names are given Negro children in this 
country, but the available data indicate that African ceremonials in 
name-giving have by no means been lost. Parsons reports as follows 
from the Sea Islands : 

A baby is named on the ninth day. At this time, or when she first gets 
up, a mother will carry the baby around the house, "walk right 'roun* de 
house." The mother or some friend will give the name, probably a 
family name "keep de name right in de fahmbly." 92 

Puckett gives an account of a Mississippi naming custom which is 
in the same tradition as that just cited, though it emphasizes differ- 
ent elements in the aboriginal complex : 

An old Mississippi slave says that the child will die if you name him 
before he is a month old seeming to indicate the fact that the spirit 
should have a chance to familiarize itself with this locality before it is 
pegged down. This conjecture is strengthened by the fact that when the 
child is a month old he is taken all around the house and back in the 
front door, then given a thimbleful of water. The meaning of this 
practice has been forgotten although one informant claims that the thim- 
bleful of water is to keep the baby from slobbering. 93 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 191 

This rite of taking the infant about the house closely resembles the 
Haitian custom of circling the habitation on any important ritual 
occasion; taking a child to those places which will be of importance 
to him "introducing" him to them, in a sense in a manner to be 
encountered in many parts of West Africa. 

How sturdily African traditions concerning names and naming 
have resisted European encroachment can be made clearer if the 
preceding passages, and the data to be adduced in paragraphs to 
follow, are compared with materials describing analogous rituals 
and beliefs found in the Gold Coast or Dahomey. The elaborate cere- 
monies that mark the birth of a child and the events of his life, the 
numerous categories of names that are given the infant, especially 
in Dahomey, to reflect specific circumstances held to mark his con- 
ception, or indicating the manner of his birth or certain physical 
characteristics manifested at that time, and the like, all demonstrate 
how meticulously these folk follow regulations concerning these 
matters that have been laid down in accordance with their beliefs. 94 
Nor are these two peoples of West Africa unique. They are cited 
merely because the most complete data are from them ; there is, how- 
ever, enough material in reports from other parts of West Africa 
and the Congo to demonstrate that the patterns of which they repre- 
sent so great an elaboration are everywhere present, and hold a place 
important enough that their survival in the New World, even under 
intense acculturation, is readily to be understood. 

Puckett and Turner have made the most extensive collections of 
Negro names in the United States. 95 Puckett's findings are based 
on the analysis of designations found in documents of the slave 
period, and on lists obtained from present day Negro college stu- 
dents; Turner's data are derived from field work in the Gulla Is- 
lands. Puckett suggests that among the factors making for the 
retention of African names operative during the eighteenth and 
nineteenth centuries may have been the prestige associated with 
African designations: 

. . . Cobb, in mentioning four native Africans, named Capity, Saminy, 
Quominy, and Quor, who were slaves in Georgia, states that they had 
facial tattooing and "were treated with marked respect by all the other 
Negroes for miles and miles around.'* This suggests that the cultural 
value of American names may not have been the same with the slave as 
with the modern immigrant. African captions may even have conferred 
a certain amount of distinction among the slaves, and thus have con- 
tinued where the master allowed it. In fact, freedom from control of 
white owners, in addition to a slowly forming family tradition, may have 



192 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

been one reason why the free Negroes of 1830 seem to have possessed a 
larger assortment of African names than did the slaves of that period. 98 

The list of African slave names of the eighteenth century pro- 
vided us is replete with designations whose provenience is evident. 
Abanna, Abnabea, Abra, Ankque, Annika, Bamba, Bayna, Bilah, 
Binah, Boohum, Braboo, Bumbo, Bungoh, Comba, Cudah, Cumba, 
Curiarah, Demeca, Ducko, Fantee, Gumba, Lango, Monimea, Mo- 
woorie, Ocra, Ocrague, Ocrasan, Ocreka, Oessah, Pattoe, Quack, 
Quaco, Quamana, Quamno, Quash, Quoney, Samba, Sena, Simbo, 
Simboh, Tanoe, Temba, Warrah, Yamboo, Yaumah, Yearie, Yo- 
naha, and Yono Cish, 97 despite the quaint spellings, are equivalents 
not only of the Gold Coast "day names" such as are found today 
in the Gulla Islands and elsewhere in the New World, but also of 
place names and terms commonly employed as personal names in 
the Niger Delta and the Congo. Turner, who in his mimeographed 
preliminary report, "West African Survivals in the Vocabulary of 
Gullah," identifies seventy names as African, mainly M'encle, has 
later indicated 98 that it was only on close acquaintance that he was 
able to obtain the many African designations he has since recorded. 
For among the Gullah, "basket names" are used only within the 
family and among close acquaintances; and it is Turner's conviction 
that without proper entree and the support of adequate knowledge 
of African data, a student could go long without suspecting, much 
less recording materials of this type. Negro nomenclature diverges 
in no respect more from white practice than in its great diversity. 
Turner's comment on his experience in collecting personal names" 
is to the point as concerns the origin of this trait: 

Even though the Gullahs may not know the meaning of many African 
words they use for proper names, in their use of English words they 
follow a custom common in West Africa of giving their children names 
which suggest the time of birth, or the conditions surrounding it, or 
the temperament or appearance of the child. All twelve months of the 
year and the seven days of the week are used freely. In some cases the 
name indicates the time of day at which the birth occurs. In addition to 
the names of the months and days, the following are typical: Earthy 
(born during an earthquake), Blossom (born when flowers were in 
bloom), Wind, Hail, Storm, Freeze, Morning, Cotton (born during 
cotton-picking time), Peanut, Demri (born during potato-digging time), 
Hardtime, Baclboy, Easter, Harvest, etc. Names suggestive of the West 
African totems or clan names are Rat (female), Boy Rat (male), Toad, 
etc. 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 193 

Another element of the naming complex is the ease with which a 
Negro may assume one name after another, especially in dealing 
with whites. The truth of the matter is that a name given a Negro 
by an outsider is something of the order of a nickname, worn even 
more lightly than are the nicknames of whites, which are seldom 
bestowed more than once on a given person, and are often retained 
through life. Experience in Dutch Guiana was enlightening in this 
regard. Here a man who had been known for some time, when first 
asked for in his own village by a name regularly used for him, 
could not be located. His people used quite a different name for him, 
but even this name proved not to be his "real" one, which had been 
given him at birth and was held a close secret within the family 
circle. It is thus not only possible, but quite probable that Puckett's 
list of slave designations actually represents but a portion of the 
African names employed. In accordance with a pattern operative in 
West Africa, the West Indies, and Guiana, names given by the slave- 
owners were most likely regarded as but an added designation to 
which one responded. They were likewise very possibly thought of 
as names to be employed by fellow slaves in the presence of whites, 
being accepted with the reservation that different, "real" names 
were to be used in the cabin or on other occasions when none but 
fellow slaves were present. 

Botume, who, it will be remembered, worked with the freedmen 
of St. Helena Island immediately after their emancipation, has set 
down her bewilderment concerning the use of names. When placed 
at the side of Turner's findings on the "basket name" and the wide- 
spread Negro tradition of accepting additional names, her remarks 
tend to document the point just made so as to bring it out of the 
realm of conjecture: 

In time I began to get acquainted with some of their faces. I could 
remember that "Cornhouse" yesterday was "Primus" today. That 
"Quash" was "Bryan." He was already denying the old sobriquet, and 
threatening to "mash you mouf in," to anyone who called him Quash. I 
reproved the boys for teasing him. "Oh, us jes' call him so," with a little 
chuckle, as if he ought to see the fun. The older people told me these 
were "basket names." "Nem'seys (namesakes) gives folks different 
names." ... It was hopeless trying to understand their titles. There 
were two half-brothers in school. One was called Dick, and the other 
Richard. In one family there were nine brothers and half-brothers, and 
each took a different title. One took Hamilton, and another Singleton, 
and another Baker, and others Smith, Simmons, etc. Their father was 



194 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

"Jimmy of the Battery," or "Jimmy Black." I asked why his title was 
Black. "Oh, him look so. Him one very black man," they said. 100 

That such confusion could never be tolerated within a society is 
self-evident; in this case, our bewildered author was merely attempt- 
ing to cope with a chaos that existed only for those outside the 
group, within which such ephemeral designations merely represented 
a play on names over a stable reality of correct appellations. 

African influences in customs concerning Negro children are also 
found in the isolated items that have been published having to do with 
the training and later care of the child. Puckctt, 101 particularly, 
has made available numerous "superstitions" which suggest how 
deep-seated in African traditions are certain sanctions which deter- 
mine folk behavior bearing on elements in child development. A 
passage may be cited as an example : 

In the Sea Islands and in Mississippi, according to one informant, 
when a child is slow to walk you should bury him naked in the earth to 
his waist, first tying a string around his ankle. The same informants 
also speak of carrying a child to the doctor to have his tongue clipped 
when he is slow to talk. While sweeping is sometimes used beneficially, 
one should never sweep the room while the child is asleep. The idea is 
that you will sweep him away, and this seems to be possibly a half- 
remembered notion of the African "dream-soul" which leaves the body 
during sleep. 102 

Parsons recounts a related belief from the Sea Islands : 

If you have to "go a distance wid de chilV you notify de speret, call, 
"Come, baby!" Unless you called back in this way, wherever "you stop 
dat night, you wouldn' get any res' at all, 'cause de speret lef behin'. 
Call him at eve'y cross-road you come to." 103 

To "call" the soul of a child before going on a journey is routine in 
West Africa, and elaborate care must be taken on numerous other 
occasions to ensure that it stay with its owner and continue to exer- 
cise benevolence toward him. Among the Yoruba, and in Dahomey, 
well-recognized rituals exist in which a person pays homage to his 
soul, while in the Gold Coast the patrilineal soul line is of equal 
importance with the matrilineal descent line. The correspondence 
of the material given in the passage just quoted, however, is most 
striking when analyzed with reference to a situation encountered in 
Dutch Guiana. Here a young woman informant, who had been ill 
for some years after she had moved to Paramaribo with her family 
from another town, recovered her health when, at the instructions 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 195 

of a diviner, she went through a ceremony calculated to return her 
soul to her. It had remained behind in the town of her birth because 
her mother had neglected at the time ritually to inform it where the 
family was moving, and it had thus failed to accompany its owner. 104 
That those concerned with education and health have been con- 
tent to formulate projects of vast proportion without regard to their 
relationship to folk custom in child rearing and child care can only 
be regarded as a commentary on procedures in initiating and carry- 
ing through such enterprises. Quite without reference to the African 
background, the fact that Mrs. Cameron, working to a considerable 
extent in urban centers, was able to document the "high positions" 
which the practitioners of folk medicine and magic "possess in their 
respective communities," north and south, is eloquent of the short- 
ness of the perspective under which good works are too frequently 
undertaken : 

Their hold must be very strong to allow them to maintain their ground 
in the face of such powerful interferences as the State Boards of Health, 
free dispensaries and free education. But the mould for the reception of 
these beliefs is set from babyhood in many families and the traditions 
surrounding these practitioners seem to still retain enormous force. 105 

In Trinidad, Haiti, and Dahomey appropriate rituals mark the 
appearance of the permanent teeth; the essence of one such rite is 
to throw the first deciduous tooth to fall out on the roof of the 
mother's house or into some near-by place, asking that the new teeth 
be strong and beautiful. Parsons reports from the Sea Islands that: 
"When a 'chil' sheddin' teet', take an' put 'em in a corn-cob, an* 
fling it right over de house.' This practice was referred to as 'callin' 
de new teet' back.' " 106 That its provenience is other than the Eng- 
lish custom cited by Puckett 107 in connection with the Negro belief 
that deciduous teeth must be protected from dogs, which "requires 
the dog to eat the tooth," is apparent when its African counterpart 
is pointed out. As in so many other instances of strained ascription 
of origin, the difficulty in this case has been that the precise Afri- 
can correspondence had never been recorded, and was thus not avail- 
able to the comparative folklorist. 

The importance of whipping among American Negroes as a tech- 
nique of training the young has been frequently remarked. An ex- 
ample of this is the following : 

A woman in her late fifties said : "Today parents don't make children 
mind enough. We used to take and whip them." She went on to tell that 
she grew up in a small rural community, and "when I was young, every 



196 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

woman in the place was my mother. If I did wrong and one of them 
saw me she'd whip me, and then she'd tell my mother and I'd get an- 
other whipping. Today parents don't whip their children enough and 
the children are getting worse." 108 

Attempts to account for this phenomenon, which again diverges 
from common practice among whites, arc usually couched in his- 
torical or psychological terms referring to the experience of the 
Negroes under slavery. In a passage which follows the one quoted, 
this explanation is given : 

Formerly whipping served both Whites and Negroes as an accepted 
form of discipline and as a convenient outlet for sadism. The grand- 
parents of the present young colored parents were themselves whipped 
by their white masters. The majority of old Negroes, in contrasting the 
present with the past, bring up the point of corporal punishment, saying: 
"They can't whip us now like they used to." The slaves adopted whip- 
ping as the approved way of correcting and punishing faults. Moreover, 
they had no means of retaliating for their own beatings, unless on their 
own children. . . . Although whipping was a pattern taken over from 
the masters, and still survives among their descendants, today the failure 
of Negro parents to whip their children may be criticized as "aping the 
Whites." A woman of sixty made that accusation against a young 
mother of the upper class, who always tries to explain things to her 
children and never beats them at all. It is of course true that reluctance 
to whip children is a newer white pattern which is gradually displacing 
the old. 109 

This attempt to account for beating is appealing because of its logic, 
but in the light of the facts it is not only poor history but poor psy- 
chology, since it completely disregards the fact that the outstanding 
method of correction in Africa itself and elsewhere among New 
World Negroes, whether of children or of adults, is whipping. In 
point of fact, the literature of slavery gives no indication that slaves 
did beat their children to "take out" their own humiliation on those 
who were as impotent before them as they themselves were under 
the lash of the master. Finally, it is not easy to understand just 
why sadistic tendencies should have taken this particular form 
among a people whom observers almost never characterize by this 
term. 

When we turn to the data from Negro cultures concerning whip- 
ping as a form of correction, we find a great deal of material to con- 
firm an assumption of historical relationship to New World practice. 
In Dahomey and among the Yoruba, flogging of an order of sever- 
ity almost unknown in Europe, except as a penal device, was the 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 197 

rule. Children were likewise flogged not so severely, it is true, but 
severely in terms of comparable modes of applying this form of 
discipline in white societies. Whipping is considered an integral part 
of West African pedagogical method; indeed, no better expression 
of the theory behind it could be given than the statement quoted by 
Powdermaker in the first of the two citations from her work, for 
this matches expression of opinion heard several times in West 
Africa itself when the training of children was under discussion. 

In Haiti, to shift to the New World, or in Guiana or Trinidad 
or Jamaica, the cries of young boys and girls being whipped for 
misdeeds are heard even by the casual visitor. The right of any elder 
to whip an erring younger member of his family is vested in all 
Haitians, and on occasion a grown man will kneel before his father 
or uncle to receive the strokes that have been decreed as a punish- 
ment. Again, the comment given by Powdermaker as to the right 
of any woman of a community to whip a girl has specific corre- 
spondences both in Dutch Guiana and in Dahomey. In the latter, a 
boy or girl is whipped by any aunt, who thus makes it less likely that 
the father will obtain a poor impression of the child when hearing 
the outcry, and favor another wife's offspring. And in Dutch Guiana, 
a young woman calls old women of her village by the term for co- 
wife "kambosa, she who makes trouble for me," the explanation 
of the practice being that every elderly woman is on the lookout for 
misbehavior. The old women are thought of as interfering unduly 
in the life of the younger women, making their escapades more 
difficult and assuring punishment on discovery. 



The principle that life must have a proper ending as well as a 
well-protected beginning is the fundamental reason for the great 
importance of the funeral in all Negro societies. This results from 
several causes, among the most important being the widespread 
African belief in the power of the ancestors to affect the life of their 
descendants. The place of this belief in the total African world 
view is in keeping with its significance for the people. For the dead 
are everywhere regarded as close to the forces that govern the 
universe, and are believed to influence the well-being of their de- 
scendants who properly serve them. The worship of the ancestors 
thus supports all social institutions based on kinship, giving them 
that measure of stability and integration that has been so frequently 



198 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

remarked by those who have had firsthand contact with African 
tribes. 

In West Africa, the ceremonial richness of the ancestral cult is 
enhanced because of the greater resources of the tribes of this region 
when compared to other areas, yet the feeling of the ever-present 
care afforded by these relatives in the world of the spirit is essen- 
tially the same among all African folk. The ritual for the ancestors 
begins with the death of a person, who must have a funeral in keep- 
ing with his position in the community if he is to take his rightful 
place in the afterworld. As far as surviving relatives are concerned, 
two drives cause them to provide proper funeral rites. The positive 
urge derives from the prestige that accrues to a family that has pro- 
vided a fine funeral for a dead member ; negative considerations arise 
out of the belief that the resentment of a neglected dead person will 
rebound on the heads of surviving members of his family when 
neglect makes of him a spirit of the kind more to be feared than any 
other a discontented, restless, vengeful ghost. 

The ancestral cult resolves itself into a few essentials the impor- 
tance of the funeral, the need to assure the benevolence of the dead, 
and, in order to implement these points, concern with descent and 
kinship. As illustrative of how these essentials have persisted, even 
where acculturation to white patterns has been most far-reaching, 
we may turn to the description of a family reunion of a group who, 
as the descendants of a free mulatto couple, are in their customary 
behavior as far removed as possible from the behavior of such 
Africans as may be included in their ancestry : 

This family has had family reunions for fifty years or more. When 
the family reunion took place in 1930 there were grandchildren, great- 
grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren in the ancestral home- 
stead to pay respect to the memory of the founder of the family, who 
was born in 1814 and died in 1892, and his wife, who died in 1895 at 
the age of seventy-one. His only living son, eighty-four years old, who 
was the secretary-treasurer of the family organization, was unable to 
attend because of illness. The founder of the family had inherited the 
homestead from his father, who was listed among the free Negroes in 
1830. A minister, who had founded a school in the community in 1885 
and knew him intimately, described him as "an old Puritan in his morals 
and manners and the only advocate of temperance in the county" when 
he came there to work. 

The meeting was opened with a hymn, chosen because of its theme, 
"leaning on the Everlasting Arm." The widow of the son of the founder 
of the family spoke of the necessity of the children's "walking in the 
straight path" that the founder "had cut out." Her daughter, a recent 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 199 

Master of Arts from Columbia University and the vice-principal of a 
colored high school in a large eastern city, had returned to the family 
reunion. Another granddaughter read, as was customary, a paper em- 
bodying the history of the achievements of the family and a eulogy of 
their ancestors. The program included a prayer service after which din- 
ner was served. The ceremony was ended by a visit to the family burying- 
ground where there is a tombstone bearing the names of the founder 
and his wife and the date of their birth and death. 110 

This passage clearly indicates that, though the conversion of New 
World Negroes to Christianity in its varying forms has obliterated 
overt manifestations of the ancestral cult to the extent that Euro- 
pean religious beliefs have been taken over, the extinction of the 
cult does not mean that its spirit has disappeared or that its sanc- 
tions have not persisted. Family reunions are common enough in this 
country, but it is somewhat doubtful whether at many white family 
reunions the day is ended with a visit to the tombstone of the 
founders; whether eulogies of the "ancestors" this family was 
founded in 1814, it will be remembered are included in the festivi- 
ties; or whether such a strong religious tone is given the proceed- 
ings. One must look for these elsewhere than in custom governing 
affairs of this sort common to whites and Negroes. If the more de- 
tailed accounts of ancestral rites are consulted, such as have been 
recorded, for example, by Rattray for the Ashanti and for Dahomey 
in the work already cited, indication will be found of the proveni- 
ence of the intangible validations which have made for self -conscious- 
ness on the part of this particular "extended family/' and have 
shaped its family rituals. 

The range of variation implied in resemblances between survivals 
in the practices of a group sophisticated in terms of Euro-American 
behavior, and the full-blown rituals of Africa itself or, for another 
region of the New World, Dutch Guiana 111 is thus seen to be great. 
With a realization of the various acculturative steps represented in 
other New World instances lying between the two extremes in cus- 
tomary usage where the dead and their souls are concerned, 112 we 
may therefore turn to a consideration of other Africanisms in death 
customs, funeral practices, and belief in ghosts that have been 
recorded for the United States. 

Odum, in an early work, recognized the important place accorded 
death in the mores of the Negro community: 

It is a great consolation to the Negro to know that he will be buried 
with proper ceremonies and his grave properly marked . . . there are 



20O THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

few greater events than the burial, and none which brings the commu- 
nity together in more characteristic attitude. The funeral is a social 
event, for which the lodge appropriates the necessary expenses. Here 
the religious trend of the Negro is magnified and with praise of the 
dead and hopes for the future he mingles religious fervor with morbid 
curiosity and love of display. 113 

In the Mississippi community studied by Powdermaker, we learn 
that : 

Burial insurance is usually the first to be taken out and the last to be 
relinquished when times grow hard. It is considered more important by 
the very poor than sickness or accident insurance, although the latter is 
becoming more popular. No Negro in Cottonville can live content unless 
he is assured of a fine funeral when he dies. Fifteen cents a week and 
five cents extra for each member of the family will guarantee a hundred- 
dollar funeral, in which the company agent plays an active part. 114 

In a later passage, the importance of providing for adequate burial 
is emphasized: 

There are certain expenses besides taxes which must be paid in cash. 
One of these is insurance. In the dilapidated shacks of undernourished 
families, whose very subsistence depends upon government relief, the 
insurance envelope is almost invariably to be seen hanging on the wall. 
Even when sickness and accident insurance are allowed to lapse, the 
burial insurance is kept up. 115 

Johnson's report is to the same effect : 

The tradition of the burial society hangs on in the mutual organiza- 
tions which, though concerned chiefly with death benefits, build up and 
hold their membership on the strength of the social features. In a situa- 
tion under which families were losing such insurance as they had, the 
burial societies were gaining in strength. 116 

Societies of this sort are ubiquitous among New World Negroes 
as the most widespread and institutionalized survivals of the African 
desire for proper burial. As is often the case, drives of this sort are 
illuminated by negative examples, one of which can be given in terms 
of an incident that occurred in the Trinidad village of Toco during 
the summer of 1939. An extremely poor man, whose wife and chil- 
dren no longer lived with him, was found dead in the shack he in- 
habited. Since he had no relatives and belonged to no insurance soci- 
ety, his burial was left to the officials charged with the care of 
paupers. In the tropics, a corpse is ordinarily buried in early morn- 
ing or late afternoon, and during the day following death Public 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 201 

Works carpenters could be heard hammering on "de box" they 
had been hired to make. After they had finished, the young men 
who had made the crude coffin placed it on their shoulders, and, 
with no concern to form a procession, walked down the road with 
it to the cemetery, laid it on the ground until the grave was dug, and 
then, lowering it, refilled the hole and went their way. 

Indignation was voiced on every hand, and pity. Expressions of 
opinion were heard not only from members of the village of pure 
Negro descent, but those of mixed blood as well. One minor official, 
a mulatto of upper-class status, said: "It wasn't right to put him 
in the hole just like he wasn't human, it wasn't right of the minis- 
ters to stay away, and it wasn't right nobody laid him out." No one 
was surprised when one noonday, shortly afterward, some children 
on their way home from school, gathering fruit beneath a tree that 
stood in front of his hut, ran with fear as, glancing into the 
branches, they "saw" him glowering at them. And the door of his 
poor hut, blown open by the wind, remained unshut as folk sedu- 
lously avoided what must be a residence haunted by an angry, dis- 
satisfied, vengeful spirit. 

On the southern plantations, the feeling of the slaves that proper 
attention be paid the requirements of the dead was in some measure 
respected, as is shown by contemporary testimony on slave funerals. 
This, however, meant keeping alive the African tradition that the 
principal ritual take place some time after the actual interment, 
separating this, so to speak, from the funeral as such. The practice 
was encouraged by economic and social conditions under slavery; 
but it must be remembered that here, as in other forms of behavior 
previously considered, this situation merely tended to rework a 
tradition which, in such a manifestation as the Dahomean partial 
and definitive burials, 117 is found widely spread throughout West 
Africa and is today encountered in the New World where imposed 
regulation does not require immediate burial. The following pas- 
sage shows how in outline the entire African funeral complex, in- 
cluding the delayed interment, was continued among the slaves : 

There was one thing which the Negro greatly insisted upon, and 
which not even the most hard-hearted masters were ever quite willing to 
deny them. They could never bear that their dead could be put away 
without a funeral. Not that they expected, at the time of burial, to have 
the funeral service. Indeed, they did not desire it, and it was never 
according to their notions. A funeral to them was a pageant. It was a 
thing to be arranged for a long time ahead. It was to be marked by the 
gathering of kindred and friends from far and near. It was not satis- 



2O2 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

factory unless there was a vast and excitable crowd. It usually meant an 
all-day meeting, and often a meeting in a grove, and it drew white and 
black alike, sometimes almost in equal numbers. Another demand in this 
case for the slaves knew how to make their demands was that the 
Negro preacher "should preach the funeral'* as they called it. In things 
like this, the wishes of the slaves usually prevailed. "The funeral" 
loomed up weeks in advance, and although marked by sable garments, 
mournful manners and sorrowful outcries it had about it hints of an 
elaborate social function with festive accompaniments. 118 

Another version of this same manner of honoring the dead by the 
slaves reads as follows: 

One of the big days among our people was, when a funeral was held. 
A person from New Jersey who was not acquainted with our customs, 
heard it announced that : "next Sunday two weeks the funeral of Janet 
Anderson will be preached/' "Well," said the stranger, "how do they 
know that she will be dead?" The fact was, she was already dead, and 
had been for some time. But, according to our custom, a custom growing 
out of necessity, we did hot hold the funeral when the person was 
buried. The relatives and friends could not leave their work to at- 
tend funerals. Often persons would be buried at night after working 
hours. If the deceased was a free person, and the immediate family 
could attend a week-day funeral, there might be others, both friends 
and relatives who could not attend, hence, the custom became general. 119 

That the custom, noted likewise by Puckett for recent times, 120 
has by no means died out is illustrated by the recent experience, in 
two instances, of having Negroes leave jobs to return south in order 
to attend delayed funerals, in one instance, "of my mother who died 
last spring." As in earlier days, the explanation of the principals was 
in terms of the need to make proper preparations, and the difficulty 
of gathering the family on short notice. Yet one may well ask why 
such delayed funerals are not found among other underprivileged 
groups in the population immigrants, for example, whose need 
for delay in terms of their inability to leave jobs on short notice is 
quite as great as that of the Negroes. This is made the more evi- 
dent when it is pointed out that the explanation for this custom 
given by Negroes, while in line with the practical requirements of 
their life, happens to be very similar to the explanation given by 
Dahomeans for their aboriginal form of the institution. For when 
asked why they permit time to elapse between the "partial" and the 
"definitive" burial of their dead, they likewise point out their need 
for time to effect necessary preparations if the rites are to be car- 
ried out in proper style. Whatever the rationalization, the proveni- 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 203 

ence of the tradition as found in the United States is clear; the 
light it throws on attitudes toward death and burial among Negroes 
in this country is merely further testimony of the vitality of the 
entire complex of attitudes and rituals toward death that have car- 
ried over in however changed outer form. 121 

More Africanisms are found in some of the details of Negro 
funeral procedure. Here, as elsewhere, it is to be regretted that no 
consecutive account of the rituals of death are to be had for analy- 
sis, 122 yet such data as have been published unambiguously include 
many African correspondences. The importance of proper mourn- 
ing, by which is meant public vocal expression of grief, finds many 
counterparts in the ancestral continent. 123 Crape is worn by mem- 
bers of the family, and not only placed on the door of the house 
where the dead lived, but is even reported as being tied on "every 
living thing that comes in the house after the body has been taken 
out even to dogs and chickens/' As an "attempt to pacify an 
avenging spirit which was the cause of death," 124 this likewise re- 
flects African procedure and belief. The extension of separating 
burial and funeral rites into the holding of multiple funerals for a 
person of status in the several communities or several organizations 
he served 125 is similarly non-European. The great need that a funeral 
proceed smoothly, as shown in the belief that "if the procession 
should stop another death will soon follow, mishap on the way 
probably indicating that the corpse is dissatisfied and regrets having 
to leave this world,'* 126 can be readily matched in Africa. 

Parsons gives further hints of direct Africanisms in connection 
with the funeral itself : 

When an Odd-Fellow dies, "de body cover up, nobody mus* touch. 
Six men come to bade an' dress de body." Similarly, on the death of 
a Good Samaritan, "de body cover up, no one can touch de body 'til 
de Sisters come. Sen' to de Wordy (Worthy) Chief. Fo' Sisters come 
wash de body an' lay out. Nobody can look at de face widout de Sister 
say so. Say, 'Can I look at de face?' 'Yes/ Each Sister has to watch 
de body fo' one hour." 127 

The correspondence of this complex to other New World Negro 
customs and those of West Africa is immediate, especially that 
part wherein it is forbidden for anyone to touch the body until the 
members of the society to which the dead belonged have prepared 
it to say nothing of the further secret rites which future research 
may perhaps reveal. To refer again to Dahomey, the body of a 
member of a religious cult group there may not be touched by 



2O4 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

relatives until the priest and the surviving members, employing 
elaborate secret rites, come and "take the spirit" from the head of 
the body. 128 In Trinidad, secret society members, most notably in the 
case of Masons, gather in the room where the body of a dead 
"brother" lies to perform secret rites and prepare it for burial. In 
Haiti, a person with a "spirit in his head" must have it removed 
before the more common rituals are performed. 121 ' 

Other African aspects of the funeral appear as we continue our 
search. At the funeral of one Jesse Harding as described by John- 
son, it was hard to arouse the congregation; he had been a good 
man, but not a type sympathetic with the easygoing ways of the 
group among whom he lived. One of those present, called upon to 
speak, did the best he could : 

The chill of the audience bore down upon him, and he admitted, 
almost bargainwise: "Brother Jesse had his faults, like you and me. 
I talked with him at home and at the hospital." He excused himself 
for not visiting at the hospital oftener: "They had to ask me not to 
come to the hospital so much, 'cause there was so many sick folks just 
like Brother Jesse." Everybody knew the deceased's forthrightness and 
it could be mentioned again. 130 

To evaluate frankly at a funeral the characteristics of the dead, to 
expose in direct address the differences he may have had with those 
in contact with him during his life, as though the spirit could hear 
what is said; all these characterize West African rituals. At the 
funeral of a Liber ian Kru in Chicago some years ago, attended by 
the men of the African "colony" of that city, all of them spoke in 
this manner to the body of the dead, so that the corpse would bear 
them no resentment that would interfere with the tranquillity of his 
spirit existence and cause his return to trouble them. 

Puckett is of the belief that "in a general sort of way those prac- 
tices up to actual burial are European, while grave decoration and 
avoidance of the spirit are more African in type." 131 It does not 
seem likely, however, that this analysis will be proved valid when 
full accounts are written of the entire cycle of death rites performed 
in a considerable number of West African tribes, in various Negro 
communities over the New World, and particularly in the United 
States, especially if these accounts are presented with coherent 
analyses of conceptions as to the causes of death and the role of the 
dead in the world. It has already been indicated how, in the Negro 
funeral as found in the United States, not only many of the ele- 
ments in its ritual but also its underlying motivations and its setting 



AFRICANISMS IN SECULAR LIFE 205 

in the matrix of custom reflect an impressive retention of African 
traits. 

The function of nature deities in West African pantheons is to 
punish those who have transgressed accepted codes, and of these 
forms of punishment death by lightning is one of the most widely 
recognized. One of the elderly informants queried by Johnson as 
to conditions of slavery, said this: 

My master's brother's wife was so mean tel the Lord sent a peal of 
lightenin' and put her to death. She was too mean ter let you go ter the 
well and git a drink of water, and God come 'long and "squashed" her 
head open. 132 

Puckett also points out that other beliefs as to the relationship be- 
tween lightning and death are operative when he states that "If it 
rains while a man is dying, or if the lightning strikes near his house, 
the devil has come for his soul." 133 

What may be regarded as a generalized pattern of formal leave- 
taking of the dead by all his relatives and close friends, with varied 
rites during the process, is deeply rooted in West African funeral 
rituals. The custom of passing young children over the coffin has 
not been reported for West Africa, but something closely related to 
it has been witnessed among the Bush Negroes of Dutch Guiana, 134 
Parsons, for the Sea Islands, quotes an informant as follows : 

"Dead moder will hant de baby, worry him in his sleep. Dat's de 
reason, when moder die, dey will han' a little baby 'cross de box (ac- 
cording to others, across the grave) same time dey fixin' to leave de 
house, befo' dey put um in de wagon." 135 

Puckett says : 

In another case in South Carolina the children march around the 
father's casket singing a hymn, after which the youngest is passed 
first over and then under the casket and the casket is taken out on 
and run upon the shoulders of two men. 136 

We also learn from this same source that fruit trees in an orchard 
are sometimes notified of the death of their owner, "lest all 
decay"; 137 and that at wakes the body, lying on a "coolin'-board," 
is addressed by the mourners as they take their farewell of the 
dead. 138 The wake is as important in Africa as it is in the West 
Indies and the United States. It is reasonable, however, to suppose 
that as found in the New World it is an example of the process of 
mutual reinforcement experienced when similar cultural impulses 
from two sources come into contact. 



206 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

The importance of exercising caution when dealing with the spirits 
of the dead is fundamental also in West African belief. The state- 
ment of Puckett that, "It is thought to be bad for any one to work 
around a dead person until he is tired, i.e., in a weakened condition 
where spiritual harm might result" 139 is to be met with everywhere 
in West Africa and among New World Negroes. Among the Bush 
Negroes, to dig a grave requires several days, because of the dan- 
ger that a worker might perspire and allow a drop of sweat to fall 
in the excavation. The ghost could then utilize this to take with 
him the soul of the one who had labored too hard. The conception 
that a man has "two ghosts, an evil ghost, derived from the body 
and a 'Holy Ghost* derived 'frum de insides' " 14 is to be referred 
to the multiple soul concept of West Africa, which elsewhere in the 
New World takes the form of ascribing to a person a dual soul, one 
inside the body and the other manifested as the shadow. 

The spirits of the dead are held to be dangerous if death oc- 
curred in some strange or terrible manner. They are headstrong 
if wishes they expressed while living are not followed, vengeful if 
their relatives are not respectful or if spouses marry too soon; and 
various devices must be employed to ensure that their bodies will 
remain quiet, such as fastening their feet together or weighting 
them down. 141 The dead may on occasion return to the scenes they 
knew when alive, and in such instances a feast may be provided for 
them. 142 Or, again, offerings may be placed in the coffin, or in the 
form of coins on a plate near the coffin to be used by the family 
of the dead, or on the grave. 143 And while all these customs, as found 
in the United States, probably represent syncretisms of African and 
European belief, they are to be encountered in many parts of West 
Africa, and everywhere among the Negroes of the New World out- 
side this country. 



Chapter VII 

THE CONTEMPORARY SCENE: AFRICANISMS 
IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 



The prominent place held by religion in the life of the Negro in 
the United States, and the special forms assumed by Negro versions 
of Christian dogma and ritual, are customarily explained as com- 
pensatory devices to meet the social and economic frustration ex- 
perienced by Negroes during slavery and after emancipation. Such 
explanations have the partial validity we have already seen them 
to hold for various phases of Negro secular life but, as must be 
emphasized again, cannot be regarded as telling the entire causal 
tale. For underlying the life of the American Negro is a deep reli- 
gious bent that is but the manifestation here of the similar drive 
that, everywhere in Negro societies, makes the supernatural a major 
focus of interest. 

The tenability of this position is apparent when it is considered 
how, in an age marked by skepticism, the Negro has held fast to 
belief. Religion is vital, meaningful, and understandable to the 
Negroes of this country because, as in the West Indies and West 
Africa, It is not removed from life, but has been deeply integrated 
into the daily round. It is because of this, indeed, that everywhere 
compensation in terms of the supernatural is so immediately accept- 
able to this underprivileged folk and causes them, in contrast to 
other underprivileged groups elsewhere in the world, to turn to re- 
ligion rather than to political action or other outlets for their frus- 
tration. It must therefore be assumed that not only in particular 
aspects of Negro religious life to be pointed out in this chapter, but 
in the very foundations of Negro religion, the African past plays 
full part. And we must hold this in mind as we turn to a review 
of those manifestations of Negro religion which, like its fundamen- 
tal sanctions, can be traced to a pre- American past. 

207 



208 THJ MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 



We may begin by treating the organizations that comprise the 
institutionalized forms of Negro religion. From the earliest times 
of slavery, it has been the less inhibited, more humble denominations 
which have attracted Negroes in the United States. Perhaps because 
this is so striking, a formula which explains it in terms of simplicity, 
naivete, and emotionalism has attained a certain currency among 
students. Thus: 

The worship of the Negro is of tke simplest sort. He has no appre- 
ciation of elaborate rituals, of services consisting of forms and cere- 
monies. Hence the great mass of colored races have united with either 
the Methodist or Baptist Churches. These churches have the simplest, 
least complicated forms of church services, and the Negro naturally 
gravitated toward them. 1 

The simplicity assumed in this citation, however, is but one of those 
questionable generalizations encountered again and again in this 
analysis. Actually, Negro propensity for ritual, as evidenced in abo- 
riginal cultures where no contact with whites has to be taken into 
account, is quite the equal in intricacy of any series of European 
rites. Nor must it be forgotten that when the New World is consid- 
ered as a whole, the Negroes who adhere to Catholicism, with its 
elaborate ceremonialism, far outnumber those who are affiliated with 
Protestant sects having simpler rituals. 

Bollard turns to an historical and psychological explanation : 

It is impossible to say from census materials what percentage of 
Negroes and whites are members of religious bodies in our community. 
We do know for the county that about half the adult Negroes are 
church members and of these, four-fifths are Baptists. We do not know 
how far these proportions hold for Southerntown and county but 
Southerntowners say that if a Negro is not a Baptist someone has been 
tampering with him. Apparently the Baptists and Methodists were most 
energetic in their early measures to capture Negro allegiance by means 
of their itinerant preachers. Furthermore, the religious behavior of these 
denominations was less formalized and stereotyped than that of the 
Presbyterian or Episcopal churches, and the evangelical mode of preach- 
ing seemed to have a spontaneous appeal to the Negroes ; perhaps they 
were disposed toward emotionally toned group meetings by their Afri- 
can background. They seemed to have a marked selectivity for the tensity 
and emotionalism of the Baptist and Methodist preaching. . . . 2 

The question of why "less formalized and stereotyped" rituals 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 209 

should appeal to the Negroes may be put aside for the moment. 
That the social and economic status of the communicants was an 
effective cause that operated in the case of Negroes and whites alike 
is apparent, however, and must be taken into full consideration. 

Jackson, informing us that in Virginia, "in every instance we 
note that the church established [by Negroes] was a Baptist church," 
goes on to say, "it is to be noted also that through Virginia gener- 
ally the servant class leaned to the Baptist connection rather than 
to the other churches." 3 He attempts to account for the lack of ap- 
peal of the more sober sects in the following terms: 

The greatest handicap in the ministrations of the Established Church, 
however, was its lack of emotionalism and a spirit to fire the masses. 
The functionaries of this body, clinging to European conceptions of 
religion, were unable to sense the nascent evangelism of the American 
people with its insistence on the sinfulness and depravity of man, a 
condition which in turn called for this thorough regeneration. To 
develop this new feeling a special technique was needed. Such a tech- 
nique was found in the revival. 4 

Members of this denomination themselves recognized the need for 
adaptation to a more congenial pattern : 

Episcopalians in Virginia under Bishops Meade, Johns and others 
became evangelical to a degree approximating Baptists and Methodists. 
They then accepted the revival and preached the gospel and became 
disciplinary on matters of amusement and public entertainments. 5 

As concerns the particular drives which made for Negro affilia- 
tion to the Baptist Church, this sociological explanation is offered : 

The Baptist church by reason of its policy is par excellence the 
church of the masses. It is the religious organization to which the under- 
privileged class, more so than to any other denomination, is likely to 
turn. This church is extremely democratic and is characterized by a 
local autonomy which makes each church practically a law unto itself. 
The man who is, therefore, passed over in every-day secular affairs 
turns to an organization in which he can find that very expression 
which is otherwise denied him. 6 

Furthermore, we learn that 

. . . there was a strong attraction of the slaves for the Baptist church 
because they were given greater participation in religious exercises. 
. . . There was also greater liberality among the Baptists in giving 
Negroes permission to preach while also in addition the Baptist method 
of administering communion was not calculated to discriminate against 

I 



2io THE .MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

them. Finally the mode of baptism among the Baptists satisfied the 
desire of the Negro for the spectacular. 7 

Certainly some of the reasons why Negroes were not attracted to 
the Established Church are implied in the following statement: 

As a general rule, the Episcopal minister went to the family mansion, 
the Methodist minister preached to the Negroes and dined with the 
overseer at his House. 8 

There is no question of the popularity of the Baptist and Metho- 
dist churches among Negroes at the present time. Johnson's com- 
munity today is "predominantly Baptist," with Methodists next in 
number of "612 families, 439 were Baptists and 147 Methodists. " 9 
C. C. Jones 10 and Jackson 11 give data which clearly show how the 
situation today is merely the continuation of an earlier tradition. The 
need in their religion for emotional release was understood by the 
Negroes, as is apparent in this comment of Jones, whose concern 
with the conversion of the slaves makes his writings especially to 
the point : 

True religion they are inclined to place in profession, in forms and 
ordinances, and in excited states of feeling. And true conversion, in 
dreams, visions, trances, voices all bearing a perfect or striking resem- 
blance to some form or type which has been handed clown for genera- 
tions, or which has been originated in the wild fancy of some religious 
teacher among them. These dreams and visions they will offer to church- 
sessions, as evidences of conversion, if encouraged to do so, or if their 
better instruction be neglected. 12 

Independent testimony regarding the force of the drive for emo- 
tional expression among the slaves is contained in an account given 
by an ex-slave of conditions known to her: 

Referring to a plantation located in Louisiana, Mrs. Channel says: 
"On this plantation there were about one hundred and fifty slaves. Of 
this number, only about ten were Christians. We can easily account for 
this, for religious services among the slaves were strictly forbidden. 
But the slaves would steal away into the woods at night and hold serv- 
ices. They would form a circle on their knees around the speaker who 
would also be on his knees. He would bend forward and speak into or 
over a vessel of water to drown the sound. If anyone became animated 
and cried out, the others would quickly stop the noise by placing their 
hands over the offender's mouth." 13 

The importance of the Negro preacher in furthering this patterned 
emotionalism has often been pointed out, 14 while cases have been 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 211 

recorded where his influence has been felt by whites, even during 
the period of slavery. 15 The fact that differences between denomina- 
tions are unimportant in the minds of members of the various 
churches in the town studied by Powdermaker would further indi- 
cate that it is the expression of religious feeling that is essential, 
not the label. 16 

In analyzing Negro religious institutions, those autonomous 
groups not affiliated with denominations whose primary member- 
ship is drawn from whites must also receive adequate treatment. 
These are the "shouting" sects, which play a large part in Negro 
religious life. Such sects, termed "cults" in the passage which fol- 
lows, are in it compared to and differentiated from the evangelistic 
churches : 

. . . the following general characteristics seem common to both groups : 
(i) primary emphasis upon "preaching the 'Word' " ; (2) salvation by 
faith; (3) worship as fellowship; and (4) vernacular singing. In addi- 
tion to these, certain other features observed particularly in connection 
with the cults appear more or less common to evangelistic churches also. 
They are (i) lengthy exhortations and sermons punctuated by stereo- 
typed phrases such as, "Amen!" "Glory to God!" "Praise His Name!" 
"Hallelujah!" and so forth; (2) sermons featuring polemics against the 
so-called "sins of the flesh," in contrast to the "blessings of the Spirit" 
and the "rewards of the hereafter"; and (3) the dogmatic assertion by 
each of its monopoly on the "only true gospel" of Jesus. Although the 
cults and evangelistic churches seem to have the above features in com- 
mon, certain others appear to be more especially distinctive of the reli- 
gious cults only. These may be listed as follows : 

1. A leadership that is magnetic to an almost hypnotic degree and 
virtually dictatorial in its control over the cult devotees. 

2. Frenzied overt emotional expression, such as shouting, running, 
jumping, screaming, and jerking as a regular feature of the 
worship services. 

3. Frequent repetition of hymns transformed into jazzy swingtime 
and accompanied with hand-clapping, tapping of feet and sway- 
ing of bodies. 

4. Testimonies given in rapid succession and certifying to the re- 
ception of "miracles," healings, messages, visions, etc. 17 

Within the cults this author distinguishes groups whose "entire pro- 
gram seemed designed to magnify the personality of the leader of 
the cults" ; those marked by " 'spirit-possession/ a type of highly 
emotionalized religious and ecstatic experience commonly designated 
by such terms as 'filled with the Holy Ghost/ 'lost in the spirit,' 
'speaking in tongues/ and 'rolling* " ; and those to be considered as 



212 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

"utopian, communal or fraternal." However, despite the distinctions 
between these cults, they are sufficiently alike that they may be dif- 
ferentiated "from all other institutions, religious, fraternal, civic, 
or otherwise." The essential traits that define them all are, "first 
'spirit-possession'; and second, the mass hypnotic effect of the group 
gatherings." 18 

The emotional displays to be witnessed in Negro churches have 
been recounted so often that it is hardly necessary to quote any of 
the numerous detailed accounts that have been published. An early 
report, which shows how firmly the pattern had set at the time of 
its writing, has been given by Bremer. 19 R. J. Jones describes at 
some length a number of religious meetings where the quasi-hyster- 
ical quality was prominent. 20 Daniels, 21 telling of his visits to the 
Boston Church of God, Saints of Christ, gives details of services 
where possession hysteria occurred. Odum 22 presents a generalized 
version of typical behavior at "shouting" services; while Puckett, 23 
Dollard 24 and Powdermaker 25 describe various rites and incidents 
at services witnessed or recounted in the literature. One example, 
from yet another source, will be sufficient to indicate details of the 
pattern : 

The company has long been swaying back and forth in the rhythm 
of the preacher's chant, and now and then there has come a shout of 
assent to the oft repeated text. Each time the preacher's almost inco- 
herent talk becomes articulate in a shout, "I have trod de wine-press/' 
there are cries of "Yes!" "Praise de Lawd!" and "Glory!" from the 
Amen corner, where sit the "praying brethren," and from the Halle- 
lujah corner, where sit the "agonizing sisteren." In the earlier demon- 
stration the men rather lead, but from the time when Aunt Melinda 
cries out, "Nebbah mind de wite folks! My soul's happy! Hallelujah!" 
and leaps into the air, the men are left behind. Women go off into 
trances, roll under benches, or go spinning down the aisle with eyes 
closed and with arms outstretched. Each shout of the preacher is a 
signal for someone else to start; and, strange to say, though there are 
two posts in the aisle, and the women go spinning down like tops, I 
never saw one strike a post. I have seen the pastor on a day when the 
house would not contain the multitude cause the seats to be turned and 
take his own position in the door with a third of the audience inside 
and the rest without. ... I have seen the minister in grave danger of 
being dragged out of the pulpit by some of the shouters who in their 
ecstasy laid hold upon him. I have seen an old man stand in the aisle and 
jump eighty-nine times after I began to count, and without moving a 
muscle of his thin, parchment face, and without disturbing the meeting. 28 

This account may be compared with still another description of a 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 213 

service at the Damascus Baptist Church in Macon County given 
by Johnson. Most of this is devoted to excerpts from the sermon 
and the reproduction of prayers ; yet through its fragments one can 
sense the emotional stresses that play on the audience until that 
point in the services is reached when, 

The shouting has begun with sudden sharp groans of spiritual tor- 
ture, then screams of exultation. Three or four persons are expressing 
themselves with shouts accompanied by a variety of physical demon- 
strations, while most of the audience responds in low accents. 27 

For the great majority of Negroes in the United States, there- 
fofe, whether they worship in churches that are part of organiza- 
tions including white congregations as well as their own or in purely 
or predominantly Negro denominations of humbler physical re- 
sources, the ^essence of their belief is Its intimate relation to life, 
the full participation of the communicants, and the emotional release 
-that finds' expression in the hysteria^ of possession. In its purely in- 
stitutionalized aspects, Negro religion is marked by a disproportion- 
ate importance of its leadership in comparison with whites, and in 
the extent to which each unit each church group preserves its 
autonomy. 

It is to be noted that this summary excepts such denominations 
as tiie Catholic, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian, which from an ab- 
solute point of view have no inconsiderable number of Negro com- 
municants, and where the behavior of Negro worshipers, in so far 
as present data permit any generalization, is indistinguishable from 
that of their white fellow members. Whether a study of the reli- 
gious life of Catholic Negroes in the United States elsewhere than 
in Louisiana would reveal syncretisms not in accord with official 
theology and ritual cannot be said until such a study has been made. 
Similarly, differences between Negroes and whites who belong to 
these more restrained churches in the minutiae of belief and ritual 
practices are not known and need not be studied, indeed, until far 
more materials are in hand concerning the churches that represent 
greater deviations from majority practice. 



At this point it is essential to summarize in greater detail than 
in our earlier discussion the forms of belief and ritual that exist in 
West Africa, and to follow this summary with a brief outline of 
the transmutation these forms have experienced in the New World. 



214 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

It will be well to bear two points in mind when considering this 
summary. In the first place, the generalizations made concerning 
the essential aspects of the religion of most Negroes of the United 
States are used as points of comparative reference. Secondly, stress 
is laid on the outer forms of religious expression rather than on 
inner values and beliefs. For, as will be seen, while Christian doc- 
trine by no means escaped change as it passed into Negro hands, 
the most striking and recognizable survivals of African religion are 
in those behavioristic aspects that, given overt expression, are sus- 
ceptible of reinterpretation in terms of a new theology while retain- 
ing their older established forms. 

In the region of Africa from which the slaves were principally 
drawn, the outstanding aspect of religion, noted by every _ writer 
who has dealt with these peoples, is its intimate relation^ to the 
daily round. The forces of the universe, whether they work good 
or evil, are ever at hand to be consulted in time of doubt, to be 
informed when crucial steps are to be taken, and to be asked for 
help when protection or aid is needed. Thus, while it is quite in- 
correct to describe the religion of the African as essentially based 
on fear, as has often been done, the very nearness of the spirits 
means that their requirements must be cared for as continuously 
and as conscientiously as the other practical needs of life. Cult prac- 
tices, therefore, have their humblest expression in individual wor- 
ship. Sacred localities do exist, and priests have their social and 
religious functions to perform, but in the final analysis the rapport 
between a person and the invisible powers of the world are his 
own immediate concern, to be given over into the hands of an 
outsider only in times of special need. 

These less formal modes of worship are, however, no more than 
a beginning, for everywhere organized groups exist which, because 
of the special training given their members, are regarded as vowed 
to the service of particular spirits or deities. Such groups ordi- 
narily include leaders priests, that is and followers, whose com- 
petence varies with the degree to which they are permitted ac- 
quaintance with the esoteric knowledge needed to give adequate 
service to the god who is the object of devotion. The group may 
be a family affair, and the god may in reality be an ancestor so 
important that his worship has been taken over by the community 
at large. Ritual may be strictly followed or may be more or 
less improvised; the priest may exercise the closest control over 
his followers or his* position may depend on their pleasure ; member- 
ship itself may be fixed or fluctuating; a given devotee may be 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 215 

vowed to the exclusive service of a single spirit or may worship 
a number of these. But everywhere the group is essentially local 
in character, and the organization of religion in a tribe is never 
so tightly knit that the control of the principal, or eldest, or spirit- 
ually most potent priest acknowledged as the head of a given cult 
extends beyond the reach of his personal influence ; rarely, indeed, 
beyond control of his own particular group. 

Ritual is based on worship that expresseSu-itself. in,song. and dance, 
with possession ~fcy~fhe~ god as the supreme religious experience. 
Under possession the worshiper, who is either one of the initiate 
or is possessed by a deity who thus is believed to express a desire 
to have this individual as a servitor, merges his identity in that of 
the god, losing control of his conscious faculties and knowing 
nothing of what he does until he comes to himself. This phenom- 
enon, the outstanding manifestation of West African religion, is, 
for all its hysterical quality, by no means undisciplined. On the 
contrary, in every culture definite rules govern the situations under 
which it is to be experienced, the behavior of the possessed person 
while under the spell, the manner in which he is controlled by those 
in authority while possessed, and how he is to be cared for as he 
comes out of his seizure. 

Possession is everywhere a social phenomenon; it is in this, 
indeed, that it differs most strikingly from the possession of Euro- 
pean holy men, whose visitation by holy spirits, a "miracle" and 
thus something outside common religious experience, customarily 
occurs when they are alone. Among the Africans, such "private" 
possession is unknown. A given rhythm of the drum, the sound of 
a rattle, singing and handclapping of a chorus are almost invariably 
essential if possession is to ensue, and the devotee of unstable 
emotional qualities who, by himself, may become unsettled and go 
into a possession presents an unusual case. As a rule, possession 
comes on at some ceremony where a follower of a god is moved 
by the singing, dancing, and drumming of a group of which he is 
a member; the god "comes to his head/' he loses consciousness, 
becomes the deity, and until his release dances or performs after 
the fashion of the spirit who has taken possession of him. 

In those parts of the slaving area where possession has been 
studied, the motor behavior of those possessed is consistent to a 
reTnarlcaiBle degree, Whether a person is merely a devotee who has 
been experiencing a generalized feeling of restlessness for some time 
preceding the ceremony and is thus ripe for the "visit of the god" 
or has been designated by the leader of his group as the recipient 



216 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

of this attention from the deity, the worshiper to be possessed be- 
gins by clapping his hands, nodding" his head, and patting his feet 
in time to the rhythm of the drums. In this his behavior resembles 
that of the others present, but he soon is to be distinguished by 
the vigor of his movements and the fixity and remoteness of his 
gaze. His motions become more and more emphatic, until, still 
in his place, his head is thrown from side to side and his arms 
thresh about him. Finally he dashes into the center of the cleared 
space, where he gives way to the call of his god in the most violent 
movements conceivable running, rolling, falling, jumping, spin- 
ning, climbing, and later "talking in tongues," and prophesying. 
As time goes on and he feels the ministrations of the one in charge 
of the ritual take effect, he subsides and joins the dancers, who 
always move about the dancing circle in a counterclockwise direc- 
tion. In this case, his release from the spell is gradual ; sometimes, 
however, his frenzy continues unabated until he falls in a faint, is 
removed by those about him, and eventually returns to the dancing 
space to resume his role as spectator. In every case, however, the 
drummers must continue to beat the rhythm of the god until all 
those under the spell have come to themselves ; otherwise, their own 
spirits might not return and the consequences would be disastrous. 
Furthermore, were drumming to stop abruptly, the often dangerous 
positions in which those possessed find themselves, high in a tree 
or atop a roof, for example, would cause them to suffer harm. 

In all this region, persons worship gods they have inherited, or 
to whom they have been vowed at birth, or who have expressed a 
desire for them in a dream or by actual possession. In all cases, 
however, it is necessary to have adequate training in order properly 
to worship a spirit. The person under possession for the first time 
moves awkwardly in comparison to the trained dancing of the 
initiate; the novice is overwhelmed by his emotional experience and 
only with time attains the complete release that comes to the 
seasoned cult member. Correctrocedures of all kinds, such as know- 
ing the songs to sing ToForfe's go3 arid the dances to dance in his 
honor, and how to cope with others possessed by the god, as well 
as more esoteric facts concerning the deity and his associated divin- 
ities are taught a candidate in the training he receives before he 
can become an active member of local religious groups. It is during 
this initiation period that he also learns the meaning of those strange 
syllables, akin to "speaking in tongues," that a devotee utters under 
possession and which, when interpreted, turn out to be a prophecy, 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 217 

or a new cure, or how to cope with magic, or any of those other 
matters which concern the gods when they come to earth. 

In some parts of the area in Dahomey, among the Yoruba and 
other Nigerian tribes and, to a certain measure, on the Gold Coast 
the new devotee undergoes actual seclusion during his training. 
Whether this is the rule in the Congo and to the north cannot be 
said on the basis of available data. Yet teaching there must be, 
whether formal or informal, for it i$"as dangerous for a man in 
Africa to become possessed by his god without proper knowledge 
of how fo~cope~with him as it is difficult to be a full-fledged member 
of a Trinidad "shouting'' church without having gone through the 
"mournrng"" period and the rite of baptism. 

Certain instances of possession may be cited out of firsthand ex- 
perience some of them as yet unpublished, and all comparable in 
that they represent the findings of the same observers. The first con- 
cerns a ritual witnessed among the Ashanti of the Gold Coast, per- 
formed to summon the gods to discover certain evil magic troubling 
the people of the remote village where it was held. The crowd assem- 
bled to watch the ceremony was so large that it almost completely 
enclosed the rectangular dancing space wherein those who were pos- 
sessed moved as the spirits directed. At one side were the drummers 
and singers. The seven drums, rattles, and other percussion devices 
kept up a steady beat that set the tempo for the singers gathered 
near, who also accompanied their singing by handclapping that 
matched the basic rhythms. From time to time, one person or an- 
other would "get the god," jump from his seat and run to the center 
of the circle. One woman acted the cripple, at the outset moving with 
the greatest difficulty, though always in time with the beat of the 
drums. As the afternoon wore on, her ability to get about gradually 
improved first with the aid of a crutch, then with a stick, until, as 
the dancing became more and more ardent, she threw even this away, 
and, with a shout, danced violently without any support. 

Various persons came to those possessed, kneeling before them. 
In some cases infants were lifted that the- spirits who had come to 
the heads of the dancers might bless them. The attitude of the spec- 
tators was of concerned interest but as always during rituals to 
African gods, the sanctimonious behavior that is associated with 
European religious exercises was quite absent. There was a task to 
be accomplished and the gods were being summoned by the proper 
specialists to perform their work. Spectators were therefore free to 
enjoy themselves or, where the opportunity offered, to profit from the 
presence of a spirit by having a request transmitted to it. 



218 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Tension heightened; more persons joined the corps of singers, 
more possessed dancers were in the circle reserved for them. The 
chief priest himself became possessed, and stalked about speaking 
unintelligibly. Suddenly, after several hours, a number of the par- 
ticipants, including the principal figure, dashed at full speed through 
the crowd and through the village until they reached a point on the 
bank of a stream a short distance outside it. There they began to 
dig, and, soon after, a shout went up from those watching them. 
The evil that had been dogging the community had been discovered; 
now steps could be taken against it, especially since the powerful 
gods that had located it could be called on to nullify its capacity to 
work harm. As those who had made the discovery returned to the 
dancing circle, the possessed devotees danced even more vigorously; 
a sign that the spirits were pleased at what had been accomplished. 
The drumming and singing continued, but the climax had been 
reached; one after another the gods "departed" as their devotees 
subsided, coming to themselves gradually as their dancing stopped, 
or going into the patterned faint which marked the end of their 
possession. 

We may now turn to the New World to fill in the steps by which 
this worship of the African gods, with drum and rattle as well as 
song, and without the ritual accouterments of Christian churches, 
were transmuted into the forms of Negro religious practice found 
today in the United States. We may first consider Dutch Guiana, 
where worship both among the more African Bush Negroes and 
among the urban group, long in contact with European culture, has 
been described. Reference may be made to the published descriptions 
of worship by the former people 28 without repeating those descrip- 
tions here, since the physical setting of the bush, and the freedom 
of the people to indulge their religious emotions without interference 
from the whites whenever the occasion calls for it, makes their 
practice essentially that to be encountered in West Africa itself. 

In Paramaribo, however, regulations of the colonial government 
have made difficulties for the followers of non-Christian cults. 
African-like ceremonies are to be witnessed, though this is permitted 
with some reluctance and is possible only at certain seasons. A 
description of the manner of possession by one of the gods who 
"came" to such a ceremony may be quoted : 

The next winti called was the deity of the cross-roads, Leba. As the 
drums played and the singing began anew, several persons, who were 
seated, began to tremble. Their trembling began with the agitation of 
the lower limbs, after which the knees began to shake. This was fol- 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 219 

lowed by the quivering of the hands, the twitching of the shoulders, and 
the head. The facial expression was that of a person in a trance. Their 
eyes were either shut or they stared blankly, and the muscles were set 
and tense. As the drumming and singing continued, the heads of those 
who were experiencing possession began to shake agitatedly and to roll 
from side to side, and in this state they raised themselves from their 
seats, and sank back again. As the twitching and trembling and rolling 
of the head became more and more violent, a friend or relative seated 
beside the ones who were becoming possessed straightened the head- 
kerchiefs which were by now askew, if the persons were women, and 
helped them back to their seats. From time to time an exclamation issued 
from their lips, a shout, a groan, or words spoken rapidly and unintel- 
ligibly. They were speaking the secret language of the winti. As their 
movements increased in violence, the arms were thrown about so that 
anyone sitting next to a possessed man or woman was struck. The jerk- 
ing movements of the head were repeated with greater and greater fre- 
quency, until the head seemed to be rolling about on the shoulders. 
When the one who was going through these movements of possession 
was not in the front row, room was made so that there would be no 
obstacle in his way when he rushed forward into the dance-clearing. 29 

In the coastal area of Guiana, the behavior of the drummers and 
singers who accompany the possessed dancers is almost identical with 
that witnessed in West Africa. The same relaxed movements of the 
fingers as the drummers sometimes even play rhythms identical with 
West African beats on the drumheads, the same swaying of the 
bodies by the singers that makes of their singing itself a dance, and 
the same cupped hands with which the clapping is done, all testify to 
the manner in which these descendants of Africa are but repeating 
motor habits current in the homeland of their ancestors. There is 
likewise little difference between the two regions or, for that mat- 
ter, between these two and what is found in the United States "shout- 
ing"- churches in the meaning of such a rite for the participants. 
Curing, the solution of practical difficulties, protection from the 
forces of evil operative here and now; the immediacy of the ends 
reflected in the words of songs and in the supplications to the gods 
might be the attitudes shown in prayers and sermons heard jn Negro 
churches of this country. 

Yet in Paramaribo, where the dance described in part in the ex- 
cerpt quoted was observed, Christianity is a functioning element in 
the life of the Negroes. A large proportion of those who were in at- 
tendance at this ceremony were professing Christians, baptized 
members of the Moravian or Lutheran or other sects, and as often 
as not, frequent attendants at church. The Negroes of Paramaribo 



220 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

recognize that it is important to have such an affiliation, since a 
baptismal certificate is often requested when a job is sought, while 
it is easier for a child who has been baptized to be Accepted in a 
school than one who has not thureifibraced Christianity., We shall 
encdunter the same phenomenon elsewhere in the New World as 
other instances of the pliability shown by the Negro in the face of 
situations beyond his control are given; a pliability which, as we 
have seen, is manifested in Africa itself when the gods of other 
tribes are taken over and incorporated into a system already an in- 
tegrated whole. In Paramaribo this tradition is ready at hand 
whereby folk continue to worship ancestral gods while belonging to 
Christian churches for practical reasons. In other Protestant New 
World countries where the proselytizing drive has been more in- 
sistent, Christianity has prevailed to a greater extent; but even in 
such localities only at a cost of substantial concessions to African 
-forms of worship and of ^interpretations of belief within the frame- 
work of Christian theology and ritual. 

The reconciliation of pagan African and Christian belief ap- 
proaches equality only in Catholic countries, in those cults, such as 
the vodun of Haiti, carried on outside the church. Catholic theology 
and ritual are too fixed to give rise to the variation characteristic of 
the type of Negro Christianity engendered by Protestantisrp ; in so 
far as Negroes participate in the activities of the Catholic Church, 
they must conform to standard practice. But in those Catholic coun- 
tries where adequate reports are available, 30 especially Haiti, Cuba, 
and Brazil, it is plain that official Catholicism only partially satisfies 
the heritors of African religious traditions, just as the type of 
Protestantism practiced by the whites in Dutch Guiana or the West 
Indies or the United States has required adaptation to serve their 
needs. 31 The difference recognized by the people themselves between 
the Catholic Church and these sects is, however, not matched in the 
United States and other Protestant countries, where Baptist or 
Methodist churches, whatever their local habits of worship, are 
Baptist or Methodist, so that not until a group gives over the name 
itself does it become something distinct. 

The numerous resemblances to be discerned between Brazilian 
practices and those of all other parts of the New World and West 
Africa are exemplified in the photographs reproduced by Ramos of 
a filha do santo, a "daughter of the saint," 32 as an initiate of the 
fetish cult is called. The very term used in Brazil for such a person 
constitutes an important correspondence with West Africa, on the 
one hand, as illustrated by the designation vodunsi, "wife of the 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 221 

god," applied to a cult initiate in Dahomey, and with the United 
States, on the other, as seen in relationship between the "sanctified" 
and their God in such a sect as the Church of God in Christ. The 
women depicted in these photographs, in physical type and manner 
of dress, so closely resemble persons to be encountered in United 
States "shouting" churches that they must be seen to obtain the full 
effect of the comparison. The motor behavior depicted in these repro- 
ductions, furthermore, links West Africa, on the one hand, and spirit 
possession in North American Negro churches, on the other, in 
unmistakable fashion. 

Because of the overwhelming adherence to Protestantism of 
Negroes in this country, however, the significance of what is found 
in these Catholic countries is not as great for comparative purposes 
where Negro religious behavior in the United States is to be as- 
sessed as are the data from such Protestant regions as Dutch Guiana 
or Jamaica or Trinidad. Trinidad is especially important in this con- 
nection, since in this island the gamut runs from cults as African in 
their forms of worship and theology as anything to be encountered 
in Guiana or Haiti or Brazil to a formal Protestantism among the 
Negroes that is as "correct" in its observances as Negro Episcopal 
or Presbyterian or other more restrained churches in the United 
States. Citations to these data in published form cannot be made at 
this time, inasmuch as the field material was only gathered in IQ39. 8S 
Specifically, religious custom in Trinidad varies from the completely 
African Shango cult through the Baptist "shouters" (who are, in a 
sense, an "underground" movement, since they are proscribed by 
government ordinance), to the European-like groups affiliated with 
Moravian, Presbyterian, Seventh-Day Adventist, Church of Eng- 
land, and Catholic denominations. 

It is unnecessary to describe the Shango cult procedures in any 
detail, since, except for certain relatively minor aspects, they dupli- 
cate corresponding rites that have been sketched as found in Africa, 
Guiana, Haiti, and Brazil. The importance of the local group is as 
apparent in this cult as in these other areas, and the role of the priest 
is that of the leader in Africa. Drums and rattles and song -bring on 
violent possession of the classical type, accompanied by the same 
magnificent dancing that marks the worship of African gods wher- 
ever they "mount" their devotees. In one respect this cult leans more 
toward the Negro practices in Catholic countries than in Protestant, 
for these folk make the same identifications between African gods 
anSTCafhblic saints that occur elsewhere in regions where the Church 



222 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

hierarchy of spiritual beings is reinterpreted in terms of 
"nature gods. 

The most revealing segment of Trinidad Negro religious life is 
that of the Baptist "shouters" who, on casual inspection, would be 
regarded merely as more individualistic adherents of that Christian 
sect. The "shouters" themselves distinguish two types of Baptists, 
however, the "carnal" group, wherein "shouting" is not counte- 
nanced and a greater degree of decorum exists, it may be said, than 
in Negro Baptist churches in the United States ; and their own group, 
the "spiritual" Baptists. They were outlawed by an ordinance in 
1917, ostensibly because of the disturbances these groups created in 
their fervor, but probably in more realistic terms because of the 
understandable need felt by the more conventional denominations to 
counteract the inroads these "shouters" were making into their fol- 
lowing. They strikingly resemble the early Christians in their com- 
munal cooperativeness, in the measures they take to exact discipline 
and morality within their own groups, and in the gentle nonresistance 
with which they persist in carrying on despite the edicts against them 
and what they regard as constant persecution resulting from enforce- 
ment of the law which makes them subject to frequent raids and 
fines or jail sentences. 

When initially visited, meetings of this sect seem to differ but 
little from services in churches of the more decorous denominations, 
the outstanding thing about their ritual being the devotion of the 
communicants to the "Sankeys," as they term songs from the Sankey 
and Moody hymnal, which they know in enormous numbers, with 
every verse to each song memorized. Yet even at first sight certain 
aspects of their humble meeting places are apparent that, differing 
from what is found in more conventional Christian churches, at once 
strike the eye of the Af ricanist. Markings in white chalk on the floor, 
at the doors, and around the center pole are reminiscent of 
the so-called "verver" designs found in Haitian vodun rituals. The 
presence of a large bell, the ritual importance of the central post, and 
other elements in the building complex comprise further of these 
deviations from customary practice in the direction of West African 
ritual. 

As one becomes better known to the membership, more variants 
are permitted to come to light. A period of initiation for neophytes, 
called "mourning" here as in the Itfegro churches of. the United 
States, suggests the seclusion of novitiates in Afdca.and.the period 
of probation undergone by candidates for membership in a Haitian 
vodun cult group. The incidence and character of the visions "seen" 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 223 

by these people are as reminiscent of African as of European tradi- 
tion, but the manner in which baptismal rituals, begun as decorous 
Baptist meetings, turn into "shouts" is not at all European. The 
sequence characterizing this process of injecting legally tabooed 
Africanisms into approved Christian procedure is condensed in a 
recording, made in Trinidad, of the singing of the "Sankey" : "Jesus, 
Lover of my Soul." The song begins in its conventional form, sung, 
if anything, with accent on the lugubrious measured quality that 
marks hymns of this type. After two or three repetitions, however, 
the tempo quickens, the rhythm changes, and the tune is converted 
into a song typically African in its accompaniment of clapping hands 
and foot-patting, and in its singing style. All that is left of the 
original hymn is the basic melody which, as a constant undercurrent 
to the variations that play about it, constitutes the unifying element 
in this amazingly illuminating music. 

The change from Baptist ritual to the African-like "shout" during 
a given service is gradual, for, as is often the case in Africa itself, 
even the leader does not know when the spirit will come and posses- 
sion will occur. Restraint, in the European sense, may reign for an 
hour or two after the beginning of a Sunday night ceremony, as 
actually was the case in at least several services visited. But sooner 
or later the restraint is broken unless, that is, the service is one 
where no "shouting" can be indulged in because of danger from the 
police and then the scene turns into one entirely comparable to 
those witnessed in West Africa or in the New World wherever 
African patterns of worship have been preserved. Drums and rattles, 
forbidden in Christian rite, are naturally absent, but the deficiency is 
compensated for by handclapping and the improvisations of rhythm 
taking the form of a vocal "rum-a-tiddy-pum-pum" sung in the bass 
by men who have the power needed to make their contribution heard 
above the blanket of choral singing. Possession is present in full 
vigor, with only the African element of the dance lacking, though on 
occasion even this is represented in the manner in which "patting" 
the foot is done by the person possessed. Shoes are removed because 
of Biblical precept; quite unrealized by those who practice 'this cus- 
tom, it is also in accordance with the African canons of good form 
in dancing. Numerous other details which indicate how this sect 
affords insight into the way in which African and European prac- 
tices have been reconciled could be given were space to permit. These, 
however, must await the publication of the complete data, when it 
will be demonstrated how this 'Baptist "shouting" sect is a direct 



224 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

reinterpretation of the Shango cult, and thus leads immediately into 
relationship with a full-blown African religious custom. 



As manifestations of African religion are thus systematically 
traced, the neglect of so many students to allow for the African past 
in the explanations they offer of aberrant elements in Negro religious 
behavior in the United States is seen to make a sorry chapter in the 
history of scholarly procedure. Not all students have refrained from 
taking Africa into consideration, however, and Puckett's analysis of 
Negro religious beliefs is outstanding in this respect. 34 It is possible 
that the difficulty has in many cases been a semantic one for, as this 
author remarks : 

The mere fact that a people profess to be Christians does not neces- 
sarily mean that their Christianity is of the same type as our own. The 
way in which a people interpret Christian doctrines depends largely 
upon their secular customs and their traditions of the past. There is an 
infinite difference between the Christianity of the North and South in 
America, between that of city and country, between that of whites and 
colored, due in the main to their different modes of life and social 
backgrounds. Most of the time the Negro outwardly accepts the doc- 
trines of Christianity and goes on living according to his own conflict- 
ing secular mores, but sometimes he enlarges upon the activities of God 
to explain certain phenomena not specifically dealt with in the Holy 
Scriptures. 35 

This confusion, when added to a reluctance to admit the presence 
of African elements in Negro behavior in the United States, has 
made for the uncritical acceptance of a label as a substitute for 
investigation, and has resulted either in a tendency to overlook the 
deviant types of behavior manifest in Negro churches or to refer 
them to white influence. That the African past must be included 
under the rubric "traditions of the past/' whether these traditions 
are held overtly or not, becomes apparent when the religious habits 
of Negroes in the Caribbean and South America are anchored to 
both ends of the scale whose central portion they comprise to 
Africa, the aboriginal home of all these varieties of religious experi- 
ence, on the one hand, and to the United States, on the other, where 
the greatest degree of acculturation to European norms has taken 
place. 

The importance of extending our conception of the traditional 
sanctions of Negro behavior so as to include the African past may 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 225 

be documented by indicating one or two points where ascriptions of 
origin are open to serious challenge, just because of failure to realize 
the strength of this tradition. In our first instance, indeed, not only 
have Negro patterns from Africa been perpetuated, but there is a 
strong probability that these patterns were themselves of importance 
in giving to the whites just that tradition which, among Negroes, is 
customarily ascribed to white influence ! The problem of derivation 
referred to concerns American revivalism. Are Negro "shouts" due 
to the exposure of these people to the white revivalist movement? 
Or is white revivalism a reflex of those Africanisms in Negro be- 
havior which, in a particular kind of social setting, take the form of 
hysteria ? 

A reservation of some importance must be made in our present 
consideration. While the impulses of a traditional past play their 
part in influencing such a phenomenon as revivalism, the special 
orientation of the local scene is likewise important in developing 
aspects of the institution which, resulting from contact, are unlike 
anything in the original cultures. Hence, whether Negroes borrowed 
from whites or whites from Negroes, in this or any other aspect of 
culture, it must always be remembered that the borrowing was never 
achieved without resultant change in whatever was borrowed, and, 
in addition, without incorporating elements which originated in the 
new habitat that, as much as anything else, give the new form its 
distinctive quality. 

We may now turn to the analysis of certain statements made to 
explain the religious hysteria of Negroes in the United States, first 
considering the conclusions of R. J. Jones, whose data on Negro 
cults have already been cited at some length in preceding pages : 

Two significant observations seem fairly definitely established as a 
result of this study. They are first, religious cult behavior, commonly 
designated as particularly Negroid, cannot be construed, either in nature 
or function, in spite of its prevalence, as a racial characteristic. And 
second, as long as any group of people, irrespective of race, continues 
to labor under conditions of economic, social, and cultural disadvantage, 
sufficiently acute to necessitate emotionally compensatory forms of re- 
action on a comparatively large scale, manifestations of religious cult 
behavior, as have been revealed in this study, will continue to exist as 
perhaps a negative element in the context of our contemporary Amer- 
ican culture. 36 

The first proposition in this quotation is a good example of that con- 
fusion concerning biological and cultural causation which, as has 
been pointed out at the opening of this work, 87 has seriously handi- 



226 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

capped investigations into the derivation of American Negro be- 
havior. The validity of this proposition is obvious to anyone whose 
grasp on the nature of culture is based on acquaintance with the 
many data demonstrating the independence of tradition from physical 
type, and the resulting untenability of any assumption of a causal 
connection between the two. The second proposition, a quasi- 
Freudian interpretation of the socio-economic situation of the Negro, 
is by now familiar as one of those explanations which, something 
less than the whole truth, yet has sufficient validity to be persuasive 
by and of itself. 

Proceeding with his argument, this same student continues : 

Notwithstanding the numerous analogies pointed out, this contem- 
porary religious cult behavior cannot justly be considered as a survival 
of primitive religious manifestations either among Negroes or any other 
group. For whatever may be said regarding the cultural carryover which 
the African slaves might have brought along with them to this country 
over three centuries ago, they have, for the most part, been submerged 
completely, if not virtually eliminated from Negro life as a result of the 
long and thorough-going processes of acculturation and Americaniza- 
tion to which they have been subjected since their arrival on the Amer- 
ican continent. It seems hardly possible, therefore, to posit any signifi- 
cant direct connection between the contemporary primitivism and the 
contemporary scene. 38 

The assumption here that the "Negroes" have been in the United 
States for three centuries is one of those points which, in fact, is only 
as true as its related but untenable implication that no impulses from 
Africa have been received since. Large numbers of Negroes 
from Africa were legally received in this country to the first decade of 
the nineteenth century, and later as contraband until the outbreak 
of the Civil War. That the African element had at least a mechanism 
for survival in this constant recruitment from the Old World is 
completely lost sight of in statements such as the above. But even 
more serious objections are to be registered against the conclusions 
of the study from which these two quotations have been taken. For 
the method, typical of most of those who discuss Africanisms in 
Negro life in the United States, is based on what may almost be 
termed a positive disregard of materials from Africa itself, to say 
nothing of materials from other Negro communities in the New 
World. What Jones does is to compare the hysteria in the American 
Negro cult groups with similar religious phenomena among various 
primitive folk over the world, with particular reference to the Es- 
kimo ! The reasoning is clear. It has been charged that the religious 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 227 

behavior of the Negro in the United States is primitive. The 
Africans from whom the Negroes are descended are primitives. 
Eskimos are also a primitive people. The Eskimos manifest religious 
hysteria. But this hysteria is unlike that of the American Negroes. 
Hence the American Negro religious excitement is not primitive. 
Hence it is not African. 

From where, then, has this intense emotionalism come? With 
African tradition ruled out as a causal factor, the search must be 
bent toward finding "more direct social and cultural influences that 
might be responsible/' And this, it turns out, is the camp meeting of 
the whites. The matter is put in these terms, which comprise as good 
an example as any other that might be adduced 39 to indicate the con- 
ventional, simplistic explanation of Negro religion : 

Granted that the American Negro, as a former slave, received enough 
of a basic pattern through the observance of white camp meetings to 
imitate and introduce it, with slight modifications, into his plantation 
church ; assuming that this was definitely adopted from the whites, it 
cannot be denied that the situation under which the Negro was brought 
from Africa to this country and the conditions to which he was exposed 
after his arrival, laid the basis for his being particularly psychologically 
susceptible to the reception and exaggeration of certain patterns of re- 
ligious behavior he observed among the white majority. 40 

Here we again meet the familiar theme the Negro as a naked 
savage, whose exposure to European patterns destroyed what little 
endowment of culture he brought with him ; the Negro as a culture- 
less man, with his entire traditional baggage limited to the fragments 
he has been able to pick up from his white masters and, because of 
innate temperamental qualities, to "exaggerate" them into exuberant 
and exotic counterparts. 

Powdermaker is somewhat more realistic and hence more tentative 
in her approach when she considers the problem of derivations. She 
observes : 

Many features now common in Negro meetings, especially in rural 
districts "jerks," the "singing ecstasy," the "falling exercise," visions 
were exhibited in white religious revivals of the eighteenth century, 
and are still to be found today, though far less generally, among cer- 
tain Whites. But just as the Negro has metamorphosed white hymns 
and folk tunes into spirituals that are different enough to be considered 
creations rather than modifications, so has he made of Christianity 
something very much his own. Only against the historical background 
which has been sketched can it be appreciated how much his own, in 
content as in administration, the church has become. 41 



228 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

What are the differences between Negro and white revivals as ob- 
served by this student ? They are indicated as follows : 

In contrast to colored revivals, a large portion of this audience re- 
mains unaffected throughout, merely looking curious. Participation was 
confined to the few most active. Among the Negroes also there are a 
few who come just to look on, but the general feeling is that the audi- 
ence are also actors. There is also a contrast in appeal: the fear of 
damnation as opposed to the hope of salvation held out before. A fur- 
ther, less definable difference seems due to an impression of greater 
rhythm and spontaneity in the Negro revival, not wholly accounted for 
by the greater participation of the audience. The rhythm of the white 
minister's speech was more halting than that of the Negro minister, 
and shaped to a less vigorous melodic line. The movements of the white 
congregation were more convulsive and jerky than those of the Negroes. 
This general contrast corresponds to the popular feeling that Negroes 
have greater sense of rhythm and greater freedom in bodily movement 
than white people. Such motor differences do not necessarily arise from 
differences in physical makeup, but may be to a large extent socially 
conditioned. 42 

The explanation of these differences is found to be difficult and is 
difficult if their historic depth is neglected except for the short his- 
toric past usually conceded Negroes. The quandary is well described 
by Powdermaker herself : 

. . . one can only speculate about why the Negroes respond with such 
marked readiness to the opportunity for this form of display. There 
is much to be said for the theory that the repressions 'caused by the 
interracial situation find relief in unrestrained religious behavior. Such 
an explanation is partial, however. Other factors, unrevealed by this 
study, are still to be sought. 43 

The nature of these other "unrevealed" factors is made apparent 
when it is recalled that the work from which these sentences are 
taken is entitled After Freedom; for one cannot, indeed, explain 
deep-rooted phenomena of this order by reference to the last mo- 
ments of Negro experience. But it may be suggested, in the light of 
the preceding discussion of African and New World Negro religious 
conventions, that their causes are not as mysterious as is implied. 
Comparative study does reveal them as the manifestations of African 
tradition ; a tradition which was strong enough not only to hold its 
own in contact with white religious custom, but also in all likelihood 
to make its contribution to white religion as well. 

Certain forms of white revivalism had undoubted independent 
origin. Davenport, whose work of several decades ago is perhaps still 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 229 

the best discussion of this question, points out that as early as 1734 
the "Great Awakening," begun in New England under Jonathan 
Edwards, spread from Maine to Georgia during the decade between 
1740 and 1750, and was the inspiration of the Scotch-Irish revival 
in Ulster of a slightly later period. The presence of a sect of 
"jumpers" in Wales in 1740, and the appearance in England of a 
sect of French Prophets in the early eighteenth century, after they 
"had been driven out of France and had already spread the well- 
known phenomena of nervous instability through Germany and Hol- 
land," likewise testifies to the presence of revivalism and hysteria in 
regions removed from African influence. 44 But these earlier re- 
vivalist movements also differed in many respects from the camp- 
meeting frenzies of a later period which, probably more than the 
Great Awakening, laid the foundations for the revivals that played 
so characteristic and colorful a part in the early history of the United 
States. 

Before considering the possibility of an African contribution to 
this movement, one element in its setting that has been consistently 
overlooked when derivations are discussed must be mentioned the 
influence of American Indian custom. The many "revivalist" move- 
ments among the Indians that have occurred in historic times, at 
least indicate the need to bear in mind the fact that among these 
people a pre-Columbian messianic complex existed that facilitated 
the rise of the various movements recorded since white contact. 
That these latter movements, such as the Ghost Dance, have many 
Christian elements is to be expected. 45 Yet the hysterical seizures 
that mark many Indian cult practices, and the dancing and singing 
that are integral parts of this worship, make it permissible to ask 
whether a relationship does not exist between these indigenous move- 
ments and both white and Negro religious developments in this 
country. The fact that this is a matter for future analysis does not 
in any way lessen the importance of the problem ; that it has been 
neglected by students of Negro religion is merely another point to 
be regarded as documenting the prevalent attitude concerning the 
sources of anything distinctive in present-day Negro custom, namely, 
that such traits must be referred to the influence of white practice. 

The later, most characteristic form of American revivalism, the 
camp meeting, dates from the beginning of the nineteenth century. 
One of its most famous early manifestations was in Kentucky about 
1800. During the five days of this "Gasper River" meeting: 

The preaching, praying and singing continued almost without cessa- 



230 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

tion save for a few hours in the early morning. It was not until Satur- 
day evening, however, that any special outbreak of overwrought nature 
manifested itself. Then two women became greatly excited, and their 
fervor was communicated by contagion through the whole multitude. 
The camp became a battle-ground of sobs and cries, and ministers spent 
nearly the whole night in passing from group to group of the "slain." 48 

This type of evangelism began four years previous to *he meeting, 
"with the Rev. James Crawford and others from the Carolinas and 
Virginia." It stressed the nature of the conversion experience and 
the need of knowing when and where the "new birth" had taken 
place. At one of the meetings described, the hysteria was so intense 
and widespread that some of the participants lay unable to speak or 
move ; some spoke though they could not move ; some beat the floor 
with their heels; some, "shrieking in agony, bounded about like a 
live fish out of water" ; while some rolled over and over for hours, 
and others plunged into the forest. 47 

A number of items in the preceding description have important 
bearing on our problem. For one thing, it is significant that those 
who stimulated this new movement, which was characterized by a 
far greater incidence of hysteria than its precursor, came from south- 
ern or border states where contact with Negroes was continuous. 
The social setting of the hysteria that we have seen to be so funda- 
mental in African and New World Negro practice is equally impor- 
tant in the possession hysteria of these whites, while the rolling, 
bounding, shrieking, and running about are all common to possession 
by the gods in Africa. Puckett gives numerous examples of identical 
behavior of whites and Negroes under possession or religious 
seizure, 48 though in a later paper he comes nearer to the conventional 
point of view by laying emphasis on white influence in shaping its 
forms. 49 

The contrast drawn by Davenport between the seizures character- 
istic of the United States and the Scotch-Irish revivalist pattern is 
enlightening in that it indicates that the two forms, though of a 
single historical origin, represented derivations from dissimilar habit 
patterns : 

I wish in closing to call attention to the difference in type of the 
automatisms of Kentucky and Ulster. In Kentucky the motor automa- 
tisms, the voluntary muscles in violent action, were the prevailing type, 
although there were many of the sensory. On the other hand, in Ulster 
the sensory automatisms, trance, vision, the physical disability and the 
sinking of muscular energy were the prevailing type, although there 
were many of the motor. I do not mean that I can explain it. It may be 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 231 

that as the Charcot and Nancy schools of hypnosis brought out by 
chance, each in its own field, different kinds of hypnotic phenomena 
which, when known, spread by imitation in the respective localities and 
under the respective influences, so in Kentucky and the north of Ire- 
land by chance there appeared different types of physical manifestation 
which were then imitated in the respective countries. 50 

Yet that here, as in an earlier citation, the pre-American tradition 
of the Negroes is an additional factor seems not unlikely. It is just 
in the forms of motor behavior remarked on as characteristic of the 
"automatisms" of the (white) Kentucky revivals that aboriginal 
modes of African worship are to be marked off from those of Eu- 
rope. In the New World, exposure of the whites to Negro practices 
as well as of Negroes to European forms of worship could not but 
have had an influence on both groups, however prone students may 
be to ascribe a single direction to the process from whites to Negroes 
alone. Certain details of Negro religious behavior taken over by 
whites have actually been remarked, as when Puckett 51 concludes 
that modes of clapping the hands and patting the feet found among 
whites are to be ascribed to Negro influence. Whites had oppor- 
tunity to learn other motor habits from the Negroes : 

The slaves attended these [early white camp] meetings in large num- 
bers. . . . The time of meeting was the interval in the late summer 
between the laying by and gathering of the main crops (exactly the 
period most in use today for rural white and colored revival meetings) 
and the general pattern of service, even to the mourner's bench at the 
front of the auditorium, was remarkably like that followed by modern 
rural Negroes and mountain whites. 52 

What, then, are the reasons to justify support for an hypothesis 
that the white camp meeting was influenced by contact with Negro 
religious practices? For one thing, as has been said, the camp 
meeting-revivalist tradition most characteristic of this country origi- 
nated and had its greatest vogue in the southern and border states, 
where Negroes participated together with the whites. Again, the tra- 
dition of violent possession associated with these meetings is far 
more African than European, and hence there is reason to hold that, 
in part at least, it was inspired in the whites by this contact with 
Negroes. Finally, in so far 33. Negroes are concerned, the differences 
between ffieiFFeyivaLingetings and those of the whites today in the 
InamfesIalTori o f ecstasy and hysteria, in the form QJL the .services, 
and in TKTHHtoffes ofcomrtiunicants toward these rites 



232 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

the^ difference^, between the worship characteristic of the cultures 
from which the .ancestors of these two groups, werejjerived. 

Thus we see how, in assessing the forces that have given Negro 
religious hysteria its present-day forms, and the extent to which 
these forces have shaped corresponding modes of behavior among 
whites, a problem must be faced that is far more complex than is 
ordinarily recognized. The same conclusion must be reached when 
another problem of derivation lying in the field of religion is con- 
sidered. This has to do with the popularity among Negroes of the 
Baptist Church, which has been stressed by all students of Negro 
religion. Explanations of this fact, it will be remembered, are 
couched in terms of the greater democracy of the Baptist Church 
organization, the greater emotionalism permitted in the services of 
this church, and that the services of this denomination are closer to 
the requirements of humbler folk than those of other churches. That 
the first two of these reasons is congenial to African religious pat- 
terns has already been pointed out. Yet neither this fact nor an ex- 
planation in terms of the socio-economic situation of the Negroes 
under slavery and in postslavery days is of much aid in helping the 
student understand why the Baptist Church, rather than autonomous 
"cults," should have had such a great appeal to Negroes, or why 
denominations other than the Baptist did not attract comparable 
numbers of followers. 

For an answer to this question we must turn to baptism by total 
immersion, indispensable for affiliation with the Baptist Church. It 
will be remembered how, earlier in our discussion of the religious 
patterns of West Africa, the importance of the river cults was 
stressed. It was pointed out that the river spirits are among the most 
powerful of those inhabiting the supernatural world, and that priests 
of this cult are among the most powerful members of tribal priestly 
groups. It will be further recalled how, in the process of conquest 
which accompanied the spread of the Dahomean kingdom, at least 
(there being no data on this particular point from any other folk of 
West Africa), the intransigeance of the priests of the river cult was 
so marked that, more than any other group of holy men, they were 
sold into slavery to rid the conquerors of troublesome leaders. In all 
those parts of the New World where African religious beliefs have 
persisted, moreover, the river cult or, in broader terms, the cult of 
water spirits, holds an important place. All this testifies to the vitality 
of this element in African religion, and supports the conclusion, to 
be drawn from the hint in the Dahomean data, as to the possible 
influence such priests wielded even as slaves. 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 233 

In the New World, where the aggressive pi^selytizing activities 
of Protestantism made the retention of the inner forms of African 
religion as difficult as its outer manifestations, the most logical adap- 
tation for the slaves to make to the new situation, and the simplest, 
was to give their adherence to that Christian sect which in its 
ritualism most resembled the types of worship known to them. As 
we have seen, the Baptist churches had an autonomous organization 
that was in line with the tradition of local self-direction congenial 
to African practice. In these churches the slaves were also permitted 
less restrained behavior than in the more sedate denominations. And 
such factors only tended to reinforce an initial predisposition of 
these Africans toward a cult which, in emphasizing baptism by 
total immersion, made possible the worship of the new supernatural 
powers in ways that at least contained elements not entirely un- 
familiar. 

The importance of the association of water with African ritual 
may be further documented to indicate its fundamental character. In 
ceremony after ceremony witnessed among the Yoruba, the Ashanti, 
and in Dahomey, one invariable element was a visit to the river or 
some other body of "living" water, such as the ocean, for the pur- 
pose of obtaining the liquid indispensable for the rites. Often it was 
necessary to go some distance to reach the particular stream from 
which water having the necessary sacred quality must be drawn ; in 
one instance, at Abeokuta, a bedecked procession of worshipers left 
a shrine atop a high hill, followed a long path to the riverside over 
two miles away, and returned before the ceremonies could be carried 
out at the shrine of the god. On one occasion, in Dahomey, the bed 
of a sacred stream run dry was "filled" from near-by wells so that 
this water could be ritually redrawn for use in an especially impor- 
tant ceremony. 

Among the Ashanti, pilgrimages to Lake Bosumtwe and other 
sacred bodies of water regularly occur. And it is on such occasions 
that the spirit of the river or lake or sea manifests itself, by "enter- 
ing the head" of a devotee and causing him to fling himself, pos- 
sessed, into the water. The same kind of possession occurs -in the 
Guiana bush, where the rites of various African tribes for their 
water spirits impel the one possessed to leap into the river with the 
strength necessary to swim even against the swift currents of the 
rapids. Possession by the river spirits in Haiti, or by spirits of snakes 
that inhabit the water, bring the devotee threshing into the stream 
near which the rituals are held, and where the deity is thought to 
reside. 



234 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

But in the United States, where neither Bosumtwe nor watra 
mama nor Damballa is worshiped, Negro Baptists do not run into 
the water under possession by African gods. Their water rituals are 
those of baptism. Yet it is significant that, as the novitiate whose 
revelation has brought him to the running stream or the tidal cove 
is immersed, the spirit descends on him at that moment if at all, 
and a possession hysteria develops that in its outward appearance, at 
least, is almost indistinguishable from the possession brought on by 
the African water deities. 53 The importance of the Biblical concept 
of "crossing the river Jordan" in the religious imagery of the 
Negroes, and as a symbol of what comes after death, is a further part 
of this complex. For, like baptism, the river Jordan embodies a con- 
cept in Christianity that any African would find readily understand- 
able. In the transmutation of belief and behavior under accultura- 
tion, it furnished one of the least difficult transitions to a new form 
of belief. 

The slaves, then, came to the United States with a tradition which 
found worship i^volvingj^ of water understand- 

able, and encountered this belief among those whose churches and 
manner of worship were least strange to them. When, in addition, 
they found in this group those whites who tended toJbe closest to 
ihe lo\vly T and thus tended to be the kastiarrnkteble persons in thelf^ 
new setting, they understandably affiliated with it and initiated a 
tradition which holds to the present time. The favorable influence of 
the traditional past, and the new socio-economic setting were not, 
however, the only forces that furthered this particular process of 
reinterpretation. It is not generally recognized that the Cherokee 
Indians, a tribe with whom Negroes were perhaps more in contact 
during the days of slavery than with any other except the Seminoles 
and Creeks, themselves had a well-developed river cult. 54 It was 
neither African nor Christian, but its mere presence would act to 
strengthen any river cult foreign to the newly arrived Africans. This 
Indian rite included total immersion at each recurring new moon. It 
required fasting before immersion, something which in spirit is not 
too far removed from the restraints laid on the novitiate of any cult 
in Africa, or in the rites of certain "shouting" sects where new 
members "go to mournin' " before baptism. Certainly its presence in 
the Negro milieu reemphasizes, if this is now necessary, the com- 
plexity of the elements that determined the present-day forms of 
Negro religion wherein baptism plays so prominent a part, and the 
fact that membership in the church which gives the rite of immer- 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 235 

sion so large a place in its ritual is the most popular single denom- 
ination among Negroes. 



Little is known of the theory of magic held by Negroes in the 
United States. Dollard has defined it as "a means of accommodating 
to life when it is not arranged according to one's wishes/' 55 which in 
broad terms places these forms in the category of magic as generally 
drawn. His further discussion is more specifically to the point : 

Of course, one can think of magical practices among the Negroes as 
lagging cultural patterns, which they are, but one can also think of them 
as forms of action in reference to current social life. Magic accepts the 
status quo ; it takes the place of political activity, agitation, organization, 
solidarity, or any real moves to change status. It is interesting and 
harmless from the standpoint of the caste system and it probably has 
great private value to those who practice it. Tfiese psychological satis- 
factions are important, even if they do not alter the social structure and 
are mere substitutes for effective efforts to alter it. ... Magic, in brief, 
is a control gesture, a comfort to the individual, an accommodation atti- 
tude to helplessness. There is no doubt that magic is actively believed in 
and practiced in Southerntown and county today. 56 

The problem of the derivation of Negro magic and folk belief in 
the United States involves reference to the concept of the Old World 
province 57 perhaps more than any other aspect of Negro culture. The 
importance in magic of the charm, or "fetish," properly speaking, is 
outstanding; and all those who have had occasion to study African 
magic in Africa or its manifestations in the New World will at 
once recognize the applicability to it of the "rag and a bone and a 
hank of hair" formula, representative of European magic. This is why 
in many parts of the New World (and, under contact, m West 
Africa itself) such printed "magic books" as the medieval Albertns 
Magnus have so wide an appeal, or that in these areas Chicago and 
New York mail-order concerns specializing in "magic" do so consid- 
erable a business. It is not strange, therefore, that amalgamation be- 
tween magic. and other types of folk belief of the two continents oc- 
curred; it is necessary, however, first to recognize that the process 
wa^tihe in which both parties participated, and then to seek out the 
elements essentially African in the magic practices actually found 
among Negroes in this country at the present time. 

Puckett holds that most Negro beliefs of this order are African 



236 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

but that European parallels can be discovered for many of them. He 
cites such instances as burying a bag containing parings of a dead 
man's nails and hair under the threshold of a neighbor in order to 
afflict him with ague, or the belief that to sleep in the moonlight will 
result in insanity, or that going to bed hungry will cause a man to 
sin. These European examples are to the point, even though the 
materials that go into the Negro conjure placed under a doorstep 
are intended to achieve far more sinister ends, in both Africa and 
the New World, than the European parallel given by Puckett. Again, 
New World Negroes believe that to sleep in the moonlight results in 
paralysis of one side of the face, not insanity, and this stems di- 
rectly from West Africa; while in West Africa and the New World 
where studies have been made, the belief which holds that it is harm- 
ful to go to bed hungry goes on to say that this is because a person 
will lie awake, and thus give an unfriendly spirit an opportunity to 
take away his soul, rather than because he will sin, which is the 
European concept. 

Other folk beliefs may be noted which are specifically African. 
Cable is cited by Puckett as mentioning in several places the pouring 
out of "oblations of champagne and the casting upon the floor a little 
of whatever a person was eating or drinking to propitiate M. As- 
souquer (the voodoo imp of good fortune). " 58 This custom prevails 
in all West Africa; in Haiti, Trinidad, and Guiana what falls to the 
ground during a meal is not swept up that day, since the spirits 
(sometimes ancestors) must be permitted to come and eat what they 
have thus indicated they desire. Cable also points out that in New 
Orleans a red ribbon was worn about the neck of a devotee "in honor 
of Monsieur Agoussou." 59 In the pantheons of the West African 
tribes, various colors are favored by the several gods, of which red 
is always one. The reason for wearing the red ribbon given by 
Puckett, namely, the similarity of this color to blood, obtains no con- 
firmation in the comparative data. The name of the "demon" honored 
by this color comes directly from Dahomey and is found in the 
voodoo cult of Haiti as well as in that of New Orleans. 

In one of her novels, Julia Peterkin speaks of this belief among 
the Gullah Negroes : 

All Kildee's life he had heard that to stir the earth on Green Thurs- 
day was a deadly sin. Fields plowed, or even hoed to-day would be 
struck by lightning and killed so they couldn't bear life again. God 
would send fire down from heaven to punish men who didn't respect 
this day. 60 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 237 

With this passage the following may be compared : 

Not every day of the Dahomean four-day week is devoted to work 
in the fields, for on Mioxi no farming is done. Violators of this custom 
incur the wrath of the Thunder gods who kill offenders with lightning. 
The story is told of a man whose house may still be seen in Abomey 
who, being ambitious, was cultivating his fields on this day, when a 
bolt of lightning struck and killed him. 61 

The historic connection between these two would seem to be ines- 
capable. Other beliefs about lightning present similar correspond- 
ences. The reluctance of Negroes in this country to burn the wood of 
a tree struck by lightning 62 would seem to be a survival of the cult 
of the African thunder-gods, the most feared of all in those Africar 
pantheons where they figure. Whatever lightning strikes in Africa 
may no longer be the property of men, but is taken by the avenging 
deity who has thus grimly claimed it for his own. 

The many references to beliefs involving the crossroads given by 
Puckett 03 indicate that its great importance in West Africa has been 
continued in this country. Among West Indian Negroes, the cross- 
roads is the favorite -locale for operations in black magic; and this is 
a New World development comparable to the fact that if a person in 
the United States wishes to become a practitioner of black magic, he 
must go to the crossroads and pray to the Devil for nine days and 
nine nights. 64 In West Africa, the trickster-god who guards the en- 
trances to villages, households, and sacred shrines is referred to by 
natives when speaking to Europeans as the Devil ; his importance, 
as Legba in Dahomey, or Elegbara in the Yoruba country, or as 
Lebba or Legba in Guiana and Haiti and Trinidad, is paramount. In 
these New World regions he is conceived as the god of the cross- 
roads ; that his American equivalent, the Devil, must be propitiated 
at the crossroads merely means that here, as elsewhere among the 
Negroes, he continues to control supernatural traffic. 

In Atlanta, Mrs. Cameron was informed, "if a frizzled hen is 
kept in the yard she will scratch up and destroy all conjuration which 
will cause discomfort for the family. " 65 The ascription of this func- 
tion to these peculiar fowl has been recorded several times from the 
South; 68 hens of this kind are to be found performing the same task 
in West Indian Negro yards no less than in West African com- 
pounds. The belief that hair and nail parings must be carefully 
watched lest they fall into strange hands is widely spread in this 
country, for in the most general terms of sympathetic magic it fol- 
lows that what is a part of a person represents that person, and that 



238 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

should such parts be obtained by an enemy he could and would 
make the most of them. Yet the following passage has a somewhat 
different reference : 

Some ... old ... people try to save every strand of hair and every 
finger and toe nail, because they say that when they die they will have 
to show them before they can get into heaven. These hair combings are 
sometimes kept in a paper sack and the teeth and nails in a small box, 
both of which are buried with the individual when he dies. 67 

In West Africa, and among at least the Negroes of the Guiana bush, 
hair and nail clippings are employed in place of the body itself when 
circumstances make it impossible to bring back a corpse to his family 
for burial. An instance of this African practice was had when on 
the death of the member of the Kru tribe resident in Chicago already 
mentioned, cuttings of the hair of his head, and his finger- and toe- 
nail parings, were returned to Liberid to be interred and thus ensure 
that his soul would remain at peace. 

A final example can be taken from an account of the wealth of 
Negro beliefs concerning snakes : 

The most elaborate and entertaining of these snake beliefs concern 
marvels which the narrator generally has heard about from others but 
which are related with all gusto and relish of the eye-witness. Thus the 
coach whip (sometimes assisted by its mate) wraps itself around its 
victim and flogs it to death with its tail, which is said to be plaited in 
four strands like a whip (the arrangement of scales actually resembles 
a whip), sticking its tongue up the person's nose to see if he is breath- 
ing. The hoopsnake, which can lure its victim with its human whistle, 
seizes its tail in its mouth and rolls over and over like a hoop until it 
overtakes the person and kills him with a thrust of the poisonous stinger 
at the end of its tail (which has a terminal spine). The glass snake or 
joint snake (really a degenerate lizard which can voluntarily snap off 
part or all of its tail and grow a new one) can come together after 
being broken up (unless one buries its head or fastens it in a split 
sapling). The milk snake sucks cows dry or makes them give bloody 
milk, poisonous to human beings, and the cow forms an attachment for 
it and dies of grief if the snake is killed. The black snake charms chil- 
dren in fact, all snakes can charm birds, animals, and human beings 
with their gaze. The green snake is the doctor snake and the darning- 
needle is the snake-doctor, both of which cure injured snakes and even 
bring the dead back to life. A horse hair deposited in a watering trough 
will turn into a snake if left undisturbed for a period of six weeks (a 
belief originating, no doubt, in the fact that a parasitic worm, spending 
parts of its life cycle in a grasshopper, is often found in horse troughs) . 68 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 239 

It is possible that not a single one of these nature tales could be 
duplicated in West Africa, or even in the West Indies, if for no 
further reason than because of the differences in the species of 
snakes there and in the southern part of the United States. Yet the 
preoccupation with snakes on the part of American Negroes is sig- 
jijficant. In West Africa, and in those parts of the New World 
where aboriginal religious beliefs have been retained in relatively 
pure form, the serpent is a major figure among supernatural beings. 
This is illustrated by the importance of the Dahomean rainbow- 
serpents, Aido Hwedo and Damballa Hwedo, conceived as having 
been present at the creation of the world, and by their counterparts, 
the Dangbe serpent-spirit of Guiana and the Haitian Damballa. The 
richness and variety of Negro beliefs concerning snakes are thus 
carry-overs of African religious concepts salvaged in the face of the 
adoption of Christianity. 

The principal forms of Negro folk belief foifnd in the United 
States are differentiated by Puckett into "signs" and "hoodoo" : 

While hoodoo is possibly the most picturesque form of Negro occult- 
ism, yet an exact knowledge of its usages is restricted to a relatively 
small number of persons, chiefly men, although women are not entirely 
excluded. "Signs," on the other hand, constitute the largest body of 
Negro magical beliefs and number among their devotees mainly women, 
although men are by no means counted out. " Signs" are generally what 
a person is thinking of when he speaks of Negro superstitions, although 
the term as used by the Negro is somewhat more inclusive than the Eng- 
lish term "omens," taking in not only omens but various small magical 
practices and taboos as well. The distinction between hoodoo and 
"signs" is not clear-cut even to a Negro. Perhaps it lies more in the 
number of adherents than in any inherent quality (hoodoo being the 
more exclusive), though as a general rule the hoodoo charm is more 
complex. 69 

This, in turn, accords with the distinction made by Mrs. Cameron 
regarding the kinds of specialists who administer folk remedies : 

. . . two groups of practitioners are known and recognized not only 
by themselves but also by their particular clienteles, as distinct from each 
other. One deals in what may be termed "medicine," that is, roots, herbs, 
barks and teas, while the other is composed of those who work by means of 
magic. So clear cut is this feeling of difference between the members 
of these two groups that there is reason for deep insult if a practitioner of 
the medical type is mistaken for one of those who practices magic. 70 

These two types of practitioners are distinguished by their dress, 
especially since, despite the fact that there is no hard and fast rule, 



240 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

"medical practitioners are predominantly women, while those who 
practice by magical means are, for the most part, men" ; a statement 
that again is reminiscent of Puckett's findings. Even disregarding 
the sex line, the dress of a practitioner is not that of ordinary per- 
sons, though this tendency is becoming less pronounced. 

The ways in which persons attain these callings, detailed in this 
unpublished account, have not received the attention they deserve. 
While "there are, of course, no established institutions ... to 
which these novices may go for a definite period of time in which 
they may complete a defined amount of work," the methods of ob- 
taining status as competent practitioners are nonetheless well recog- 
nized. Among the "medical group," status may be achieved in three 
ways: 

The first ... is to be especially endowed with supernatural power. 
This most often takes the form of seizures similar in type to cataleptic 
ones. This, as is explained, comes "like a thunderbolt from a clear sky." 
... By whatever means the message comes it instantly makes the re- 
cipient qualified for the task, and he possesses all the techniques of the 
craft. These healers so strongly believe in their ability to perform cures 
that they not only become deeply insulted when one expresses disbelief 
in their method of diagnosis and treatment, but may say that this dis- 
believer can expect to be chastened by the supernatural power. . . . 
Human selection by personal initiative is another means. ... In such 
cases a novitiate is apprenticed to a practitioner. An older doctor takes 
this novice under his care and gives him guidance, and in this way he 
learns by clinical contact with actual cases. In some instances the novice 
may possess a blood-tie with the trained practitioner, while in others 
there may be nothing more than a friendship which exists between the 
family of the former and that of the latter. . . . The third manner of 
entering the profession may be a combination of the other two. That 
is, one may set out of his own volition and then, as opportunities per- 
mit, he serves. Each case gives added experience until a good reputation 
is obtained. . . . Many practitioners state that in occasional crises they 
receive direct help from a voice which gives directions and tells of reme- 
dies that bring marvelous results which gain for the practitioner dis- 
tinction and fame. 71 

The difference between the two types of healers goes deeper than 
mere outward appearance, as can be seen when the following passage 
is compared with the preceding one : 

Unlike the medical practitioner, there is a great deal of secrecy sur- 
rounding both the preparation and the technique of the magician. 
Though it appears that the position may descend by inheritance, in 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 241 

some instances it is not only voluntary, but mandatory that the son 
follow the footsteps of his father, and a refusal to do so is punishable 
by bad luck or sickness. It cannot be gainsaid that the craft is free to 
all, for one may enter by choice or be selected by older magicians, pro- 
vided, however, that the chosen one is a "seventh-month" child or if 
he is the seventh son of a father in which family no- girl has been 
born, or if he is born with a caul over his face. ... As contrasted with 
the inheritance of power we find that one may be put into apprentice- 
ship for training, though this occurs very rarely. Even then the novi- 
tiate must have exhibited special ability to manipulate magic. The magi- 
cian seems to be more dependent upon the spirits of the dead ancestry 
than upon God, as is the case with the herb-doctors, and their emphasis 
is principally upon ritual and ceremonial. In all probability all novices 
of both general groups receive some technical training from older prac- 
titioners, for otherwise the question arises as to how they could obtain 
all the knowledge of their profession which they must have. We rarely 
find cases where fees are paid for instruction unless services rendered 
during the time in which the novitiate is in training are considered in 
this light. 72 

These citations give unique information concerning a critical as- 
pect of the magico-medical complex of the American Negro, indi- 
cating point after point at which African tradition has held fast. In 
West Africa those who deal in herbs, roots, and other curatives are 
invariably differentiated from those whose cures for illness and other 
less mundane evils come from their supernatural powers. Precisely 
the same distinction is made in Dutch Guiana, while in Haiti the 
difference between the traitemcnt and the use of a wanga or arret 
makes the same point. That these two types of practitioners have 
been known since the days of slavery it is not necessary to docu- 
ment the well-recognized fact that magic in some form or other has 
characterized Negro life since the earliest days of their presence in 
this country is to be deduced from the many instances afforded in 
contemporary writings. Thus one may compare a case involving a 
healer, cited by Catterall, 73 with a passage from Douglass 74 wherein 
he describes how, in a fellow slave named Sandy, he found a * 'gen- 
uine African" who had inherited "some of the so-called magical 
powers" of his homeland, which he offered to call into use to help 
protect Douglass from the wrath of his masters. 

But this is only a beginning of the correspondences between 
African and American Negro practices to be found in Mrs. Cam- 
eron's analysis. The importance of revelation in giving remedies to 
mankind is a fundamental West African tenet ; the role of the azizan, 
or forest spirits, or of Legba, the trickster, in giving to qualified 



242 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

persons in Dahomey the information that makes of them healers 75 
corresponds in many points with the more generalized concept of 
spiritual inspiration given the healer in this country. The fact that 
practitioners of magic are "dependent upon the spirits of the dead 
ancestry" is likewise purely African, and in accordance with the gen- 
eral pattern of the cult of the dead. The mandatory nature of the 
magician's calling, and the fact that circumstance of birth may deter- 
mine his selection, are again familiar Africanisms, as is the fact that 
the use of herbs involves supernatural sanction no less than does the 
practice of magic. 

The pragmatic test which all faith must meet has, of course, been 
continuously applied by the Negroes to magic and folk belief over 
the years, and this means that the devices employed by these spe- 
cialists have fulfilled their function to the satisfaction of their clients. 
That belief has held fast even in the light of the relative inapplica- 
bility of these magical devices where whites are concerned is due to 
a process of reasoning which itself came to the New World from 
Africa. The tradition that a certain kind of magic is only efficient in 
the case of a certain type of people is to be met with widely. "White 
man's magic isn t black man's magic/' a succinct statement of this 
principle, was heard on a number of occasions in the interior of 
Dutch Guiana. For the Negroes realize that, lacking belief, .super- 
natural powers cannot work effectively. Where belief is held, how- 
everand the matter of belief is not the result of individual voli- 
tion, but of early training and affiliation the power of these forces 
can operate in all its strength. It has remained for a novelist to de- 
pict the psychology of magic as it operates in the mind of a man 
against whom its power has been turned. In William March's Come 
in at the Door, the reaction of the mulatto teacher to the charm set 
against him goes far, as described, to explain how powerful magic 
can be for one whose later experience could not erase the sense of 
inevitability that seizes him when he believes himself assailed by 
these intangible forces. 

The conviction held by American Negroes that no dichotomy ex- 

^ ists TBetween good and evil in the realm of the supernatural, but that 

Both are attributes of the same powers in terms oi predisposition 

and control, is characteristically African. As concerns the type of 

..magic found in this country; the matter has been well put by Puckett : 

It is a long lane from heart-winning to "cow cuds," but in almost every 
practical episode of life along the way conjure is operative. Evidently 
we have here a force, second in utility only to West African religion 
itself, by which mankind can (or thinks he can) achieve almost every 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 243 

desired end a force which is closely interwoven with his daily life and 
one which deserves his earnest attention. But this power, like African 
religion, is not moral, but is capable of indifferently working harm as 
well as benefit. Thus it behooves its troopers to look to their armor as well 
as to their arms . . . Fortunately this matter of armament is sim- 
plified in that for the most part one and the same substance serves alike 
for shield and sword. 76 

Of similar import is what Puckett terms "turnin' de trick," a "trick" 
being the charm that has been laid against an enemy : 

If the person desires, the trick may now be turned against the person 
who planted it. Ed Murphy did this by laying the trick he had discov- 
ered in a piece of paper, sprinkling quicksilver over it, and setting the 
paper on fire. The trick exploded and made a hole in the ground a foot 
deep as it burned up his enemy soon died. "It is said that if any one 
tricks you and you discover the trick and put that into the fire, you burn 
your enemy, or if you throw it into the running water you drown 
him." 77 

The immediate African parallel to this point of view, striking be- 
cause it contrasts vividly with the European habit of separating good 
and evil so strongly that the concept of the two as obverse and re- 
verse of the same coin is almost nonexistent, is to be seen from the 
following discussion of attitudes held by the Dahomeans toward their 
gbo, or charms : 

One point which emerges from a consideration of the gbo ... is 
that good and bad magic are merely reflections of two aspects of the 
same principle. . . . The character of the gbo is such that while one of 
these charms helps its owner, giving its aid to protect him from the 
evil intentions or deeds of enemies, it also possesses the power to do 
harm to the one who would do such evil to its possessor. Thus when a 
man leaves a house for a few days, he places a nguneme charm so com- 
mon as hardly even to be thought of as a gbo to protect his belongings. 
. . . The power of this ... is such as to harm those who violate it. 
... It is believed that one who did violate property guarded by such a 
leaf, if a man, would become impotent, or, if a woman, would become 
barren, while children of such violators would meet early death. . . . 
Thus it can be seen that the Dahomean is relating what is, to him, an 
obvious fact when he says that good and bad magic are basically the 
same. 78 

Some years ago Miss Mary Owen divided magic charms into four 
categories good tricks, bad tricks, all that pertains to the body, and 
commanded things consisting of "such things as sand, or wax from 
a new beehive things neither lucky nor unlucky in themselves, but 



244 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

made so by commands." Puckett's reservations to this system, taken 
on the ground that the classifications so merge with one another in 
the charms used by the Mississippi Negroes studied by him as to be 
indistinguishable, are to the point, but perhaps merely reflect the 
general process of blurring which seems to be a concomitant of ac- 
culturation among New World Negroes. 79 Certainly the fact that 
charms of Missouri Negroes can be classified in this way does not 
vitiate the principle enunciated by Puckett concerning the dual func- 
tion of magic among the Negroes. 

No systematic treatment of the categories of charms used by 
African folk has been made except for Dahomey, but this analysis, 
based on detailed materials regarding the manufacture and employ- 
ment of a series of over forty charms, gives a comparative basis for 
such classifications. 80 In Dahomey gbo are classed both according to 
function and as to the materials that go into them. These classes cut 
across each other just as do the first and the last two items in Miss 
Owen's set of categories, since in Dahomey eighteen types of gbo 
are distinguished on functional lines, while six categories are couched 
in terms of the materials employed in their making. Hence both in 
what may be termed the theory of the operation of magic charms 
and in ways of differentiating them, immediate correspondences to 
data found in at least one tribal group in West Africa are discernible. 

It would be impossible to give in any detail the bewildering va- 
riety of Negro magical devices employed to achieve ends desired for 
oneself, or to bring harm to others, or as preventatives when the 
needs of one person bring him into conflict with andther. Fortu- 
nately, it is quite unnecessary to give such a catalogue here, since this 
aspect of Negro life has been treated more exhaustively than almost 
any other. Aside from the innumerable "tricks" named and described 
by Puckett, and the full-length works of Owen 81 and Hurston, 82 one 
finds great wealth of materials in the appropriate Memoirs of the 
American Folk-Lore Society and in the Journal of American Folk- 
Lore. Especially in the earlier numbers of this Journal, one comes 
on detailed signed reports of various cases involving magic and de- 
scriptions of the charms used, 83 while the editors of that period were 
also alert to abstract accounts appearing in other scholarly journals 
and newspapers bearing on the subject. 84 

These numerous data demonstrate that the broad principles of 
sympathetic magic that function in Africa and the West Indies have 
lost none of their appeal to Negroes of the United States. Instance 
after instance proves again that the concept of magic applies to re- 
sults obtained from what in scientific parlance would be termed 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 245 

"physical causation" no less than supernatural ; that identification of 
poison with black magic exists in the United States as it does in the 
West Indies or West Africa. There are even suggestions of carry- 
overs in specific details of African life, reinterpreted but nevertheless- 
immediately recognizable as, for example, a remedy, cited in the first 
of Miss Moore's papers listed above, which included drawing in the 
sand a design similar to that used everywhere by the Yoruba as a 
decorative and quasi-religious motif. 



Most of the materials considered in the preceding section refer to 
Negro communities in the southern states east of the Mississippi, 
and to those northern communities whose Negro populations are 
derived from this area. The part of the South that lies west of the 
Mississippi River, especially Louisiana and Missouri, represents 
something of a special case. Particularly is this true of the region 
about New Orleans, which is the locality where those aspects of 
African tradition peculiar to this specialized region have reached 
their greatest development. The reason for the distinctiveness of its 
customs, and for the degree to which particular kinds of Africanisms 
not found elsewhere have been preserved, is to be found in its his- 
torical background and the kind of European culture to which the 
Negroes of the region had to accommodate themselves. The white 
population was French and Catholic, the early affiliations of this area 
pointed to the French rather than to the British West Indies, and 
later impulses resulted from the migration of Haitian planters with 
their slaves to Louisiana. These circumstances have given to its 
present-day Negro population, no less than to its white, the qualities 
which set off the region from other parts of the United States. 

The outstanding aspect of the Negro culture in this area is sub- 
sumed under the term "voodoo." The uniqueness of the cult as 
found in New Orleans in earlier days, at least, is due to those cir- 
cumstances that have been mentioned the differences in the French 
as against the English plantation system, and the fact that exposure 
to Catholicism caused accommodation to take on different forms 
than contact with Protestantism. To what extent the voodoo cult 
in the patois of the area, vodun, as in Haiti has persisted to the 
present time cannot be said. The testimony of Hurston, who has re- 
ported on her field-work among the cult-heads in New Orleans at 
some length, would seem to indicate that the former well-integrated 
system of ritual and belief has degenerated considerably, and taken 



246 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

the protective cloak of spiritualism, 85 although many direct corre- 
spondences will be found to exist between the spirit-possession dances 
described in the final pages of another discussion by this author, 86 
Haitian vodun practices, and Dahomean cult rituals. The description 
given by Saxon of a voodoo rite, 87 despite the heightened tone of its 
treatment, likewise suggests elements in accord with Haitian and 
Dahomean procedures. Until these customs and beliefs are studied 
in such a manner as to present the life of the people without undue 
weighting of the sensational and esoteric phases of their life, how- 
ever, any discussion of Negro culture in this area must be frag- 
mentary. 

The survival of Africanisms to very recent times is apparent in 
practically every work dealing with the region, and this comment is 
the more impressive because the writers in most cases were entirely 
innocent either of concern with correspondences or of knowledge of 
African life. It was customarily taken for granted that those traits 
of New Orleans and Louisiana folk life that could not be accounted 
for by reference to French traditions must have come from some- 
where else, and that that somewhere was Africa; but this is inci- 
dental in such writings, which customarily attempted only to describe 
the "quaint" customs that characterized their subjects. 

One of the richest stores of data pertaining to Negro custom is 
the writing of George Cable, whose articles on New Orleans life, 
and particularly whose novel describing this life in preslavery days, 
The GrandissimeSj hold special significance for research into the 
ethnography of United States Negroes. Based on intimate knowledge 
of the locality and its history, it must be accepted as a valid docu- 
ment if only on the basis of comparative findings. It is thus a real 
contribution to our knowledge of life in this area during the time of 
slavery, and a book which investigations into present-day custom 
should take into careful account. 

The names of several deities which figure in the vodun cults of 
Haiti and Dahomey are mentioned in Cable's novel. Papa Lebat 88 
"who keeps the invisible keys of all the doors that admit suitors/' is 
;the Papa Legba of Haiti and the Dahomean trickster of this same 
jiame, who has already been referred to. Danny 89 is the Dahomean 
$erpent-god Dan, the Haitian Damballa, who in his West African 
ijnanifestation is the god of good fortune. Agoussou, 90 whose color is 
ted, has already been considered. 91 M. Assouquer 92 is a deity whose 
fiame would seem to be a conglomerate of the designations of several 
"West African gods, unidentifiable in this form because so little is told 
of his functions except that he is "an imp of good fortune." The fa- 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 247 

miliar pouring of a libation, whose place in a wider pattern in con- 
nection with magic has already been mentioned, is encountered, as 
where we read how one character, in distress, "has recourse to a very 
familiar, we may say time-honored prescription rum. He did not 
use it after the vodou fashion; the vodous pour it on the ground. 
Agricola was anti-vodou." 93 The concept of the zombi as spirit, 94 of 
the magic charm embodied in the term "ouangan" (wanga) and the 
importance, in the syncretism of the region, of the P'tit Albert 95 
that book of medieval European magic so feared in Haiti that its 
importation is prohibited by the law of the country all these are 
familiar aspects of Haitian terminology and important elements in 
Haitian no less than West African life. As for broader aspects of 
custom, the descriptions of the manner in which the charms to be set 
against various characters at various points in the action of this novel 
are made, and of their effect on those against whom they have been 
"set/' give vivid insight into the working of magic in this area. 

One of the last recorded vodun ceremonies was that of June 24, 
1897, which has been given in abstract. 96 A more complete account, 
of an earlier rite, was taken from a report of the trial, held in 
August, 1863, of some of the important dignitaries of the cult. 97 
The ceremony was of a type held once annually. The account speaks 
of a "witches' brew" in a vase at the center of the cleared space 
where the ceremony occurred; more significantly, it also mentions 
three snakes that "lifted their heads nonchalantly" when the police 
entered, and hundreds of lighted candles about the central sacred 
spot. 

The role of the serpent in the Haitian vodun cult and in Dahomey 
points to a certain validity for the claims of those who give serpent 
worship a prominent place in the cult of New Orleans. Hurston, 
telling the story of Marie Laveau, the vodun priestess, as recounted 
to her by the "hoodoo doctor" Turner, gives an important place to 
the rattlesnake that "came to her bedroom and spoke to her," pre- 
sumably calling her to membership in the cult. This serpent remained 
with her "the rattlesnake that had come to her a little one when she 
was also young was very huge." Turner's tale continues : 

He piled great upon his altar and took nothing from the food set 
before him. One night he sang and Marie Laveau called me from my 
sleep to look at him and see. "Look well, Turner/' she told me. "No 
one shall hear and see such as this for many centuries." She went to 
her Great Altar and made a great ceremony. The snake finished his 
song and seemed to sleep. She drove me back to my bed and went 
again to her Altar. The next morning, the snake was not at his altar. 



248 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

His hide was before the Great Altar stuffed with spices and things of 
power. Never did I know what became of his flesh. It is said that the 
snake went off to the woods alone after the death of Marie Laveau, but 
they don't know. This is his skin that I wear about my shoulders when- 
ever I reach for power. 98 

It would be revealing to know more of Marie Laveau's story, espe- 
cially the price she paid for the power her serpent brought her. For 
in West African and Haitian and Guiana and Brazilian and Ja- 
maican and Trinidad Negro belief, nothing is to be had without 
adequate price, and compacting with the supernatural is expensive in 
any terms. The tale of this serpent resembles other stories of men 
and women who also had a serpent or a spirit as familiar, and who 
over the years paid again and again with the souls of those beloved 
by them until at last there were no more souls, and they themselves 
paid the ultimate price. The versions of such affairs in all these re- 
lated cultures are too similar to this one not to make of it a point to 
be probed by some student who, equipped with the requisite com- 
parative knowledge of these phases of African religion, may in the 
future work among the believers of the Louisiana vodun cults, 
where the traditions centering about the name of this most famous 
of priestesses are still living. 

There is much in Hurston's descriptions of the initiations she ex- 
perienced into various cult groups that can be referred to recurrent 
practices in West Africa, and in the Catholic New World countries 
where pagan beliefs of Africa have persisted. The stress she lays on 
certain aspects of the initiation seclusion as a novitiate, fasting, 
wearing of special clothing, dancing and possession, sacrifices all 
these would be given prominent mention in describing the induction 
of a novitiate into a Dahomean religious cult or into a Haitian vodun 
group. An arresting correspondence concerns the sacrifice of nine 
chickens, the uneven number itself being characteristic of Negro 
sacred rites: 

The terrified chickens flopped and fluttered frantically in the dim 
firelight. I had been told to keep up the chant of the victim's name in 
rhythm and to beat the ground with a stick. This I did with fervor and 
Turner danced on. One by one the chickens were seized and killed by 
having their heads pulled off. . . ." 

This ritual method of killing chickens has been witnessed in many 
rites attended in West Africa and the New World; that it should 
have been continued in present-day voodoo of New Orleans is an- 
other indication of how minutiae can persist after the broader lines 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 249 

of ritual procedure and their underlying rationalizations have been 
lost. 

During her initiation into this same group, Hurston is told she 
must come "to the spirit across running water" ; she is given a new 
name because the priest sees her "conquering and accomplishing 
with the lightning and making her road with thunder." 100 The 
African reference of these allusions will be clear in the light of our 
earlier discussions of the religious significance of running streams 
and of lightning, and are further consistent with the tradition of 
renaming novitiates subsequent to the initiatory experience. Her 
own possession experience 101 is likewise strictly in African form, 
especially the manner in which, when taken in charge by the priestess, 
the spirit was immediately transmitted to her : 

When the fourth dancer had finished and lay upon the floor retching 
in every muscle, Kitty was taken. The call had come for her. I could 
not get upon the floor quickly enough for the others and was hurled 
before the altar. It got me there and I danced, I don't know how, but 
at any rate, when we sat about the table later, all agreed that Mother 
Kitty had done well to take me. 102 

This may be compared with an account of how first a vodun priest 
and later a possessed woman brought on possession to others taking 
part in the service preceding a Haitian ceremony, 103 or how posses- 
sion is regulated in Dahomey and the nature of the possession ex- 
perience; 104 such a comparison will establish identities of the most 
precise nature. 

Outstanding in the manner in which traits of African religion are 
carried over in those New World countries where Catholicism is 
predominant are the syncretisms between African and Christian 
sacred beings, especially the manner in which Catholic practices are 
incorporated into the African rituals of the Negro cult groups. The 
existence of this phenomenon has been proved for Brazil by Ramos, 
who in numerous works has provided full documentation, naming 
the saints that correspond to African gods, and depicting and ana- 
lyzing the ritual alfars on which crucifix and chromolithographs of 
the saints jostle African offerings and wood carvings in the African 
manner. 105 The Cuban form of this syncretism has been described 
by Ortiz 106 and has been reported several times from Haiti. 107 

The same phenomenon has been reported for the New Orleans 
cults; though, as might be expected, the correspondences are less 
specific and less numerous than in these other countries. The fol- 
lowing may be analyzed : 



250 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

In the first seance she tells of a white girl calling upon a Negro 
voodoo-woman to obtain help in winning the man she loves. At the 
meeting, the girl is allowed to wear nothing black, and is forced to re- 
move the hairpins from her hair, lest soir.e of them be accidentally 
crossed, thus spoiling the charm. In the room were paintings of the 
various Catholic saints, and an altar before which was a saucer contain- 
ing white sand, quicksilver, and molasses, apexed with a blue ^candle 
burning for Saint Joseph (Veriquete). All the way through, there is this 
strange mixture of Catholicism and voodooism. The "Madam" kneels 
at the girl's feet and intones the "Hail Mary" of the Church, there is 
a song to Liba (voodoo term for St. Peter) and another to Blanc Dani 
(St. Michael). The money collected at the seance is put in front of 
the altar with the sign of the cross. 108 

In this passage certain identifications of first importance are en- 
countered. The identity of Legba (Liba in the above) and St. Peter 
follows in principle the syncretism of Haiti; here, indeed, this iden- 
tification is the more logical, since Liba, guardian of gate and cross- 
roads, is conceived as St. Peter, guardian of the keys. It is likewise 
significant that he is the first of the two voodoo spirits called after 
the "Hail Mary," for this confirms our assumption of his identity 
with the Legba of Haiti and West Africa, where this god is likewise 
the first called. Why Blanc Dani, Cable's "Danny" and the counter- 
part of the Dahomean serpent-deity Dan, whose color is white, is 
identified with St. Michael cannot be said; it is apparent that the 
principle of identification is the same as that which in Haiti identifies 
the serpent-deity with St. Patrick (for understandable reasons, ap- 
parently overlooked in New Orleans). Other instances of the work- 
ing of the principle of syncretism given by Puckett 109 need not be 
repeated here; it is of interest that, according to Miss Owen's ac- 
count cited by him, 110 the same process is found among the voodoos 
of Missouri. 

The pronounced African character of voodooism makes of the 
localities in which it occurs some of the most promising spots in 
which to seek other less dramatic but equally deep-seated survivals. 
For there is no more reason to believe that other, nonreligious 
Africanisms have died out than there is, in the light of Saxon and 
Hurston's accounts, to credit the assertions of those who state that 
the last voodoo performance took place in 1897. Nor, on the other 
hand, is it to be supposed that voodoo is by any means restricted to 
the region about New Orleans. Its influence has traveled far, and 
the voodoo doctor, as distinguished from the hoodoo doctor (a sub- 
ject likewise a matter for future detailed field analysis) is found 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 251 

practicing his trade well outside the limits of the Catholic, sometime 
French, area of Louisiana. Powdermaker reports "four famous 
voodoo doctors'* living and practicing within a radius of fifty miles 
of the community she studied, 111 while Puckctt, who gives in some 
detail the distribution of the cult, states that in 1885 it was esti- 
mated that perhaps a hundred old men and women followed it as a 
profession in Atlanta, and that similar cults, reinforced by West 
Indian migration, have taken great hold in recent times in the Negro 
district of New York. 112 

In view of the manner in which the type of worship and magical 
control represented by voodoo drives deep into the tradition^ beliefs 
of the Negro, it should not be surprising if future study shows that 
much more of the cult has persisted than is customarily held. Cer- 
tainly, in any analysis of African survivals in the United States, 
this Louisiana enclave, where special historical circumstances have 
made for the perpetuation of this African cult and for the preserva- 
tion of more numerous and more specific African practices than in 
any other portion of the country excepting the Sea Islands, should 
receive far greater and systematic attention than has been given it. 



Certain Negro beliefs which cannot be systematized in terms of 
even so rough a set of categories as has been employed in marshaling 
the facts thus far presented in this chapter, remain to be discussed. 
In a well-integrated system of belief and ritual this would not be 
true, but where contact has distorted values and changed modes of 
expression, phenomena of the kind now to be discussed lose contact 
with such forms of belief and behavior as have been previously con- 
sidered. They are no less important for the study of African sur- 
vivals because of the position they take in the ordering of Negro 
life, however, and require careful exposition and adequate analysis. 

The conception of the Devil held by Negroes in the United States 
may be taken as the first of these points. In the religious system of 
the whites, this character holds secondary importance, except per- 
haps in those evangelical churches where the punishment of the 
damned as focused in the personality of Satan is stressed. Yet the 
Devil as conceived by the Negroes is a different Satan, even from 
that of the Protestant groups that preach the doctrine of damnation 
most vigorously; which means that the problem again arises of 
analyzing the elements contributing to a belief which, differing in its 



252 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

present form from its counterpart among whites, represents a com- 
bination of cultural impulses. 

The matter has been put in the following terms : 

The Africans cling to their tendency to worship the malevolent even 
after they have heard of Christianity. One bishop asked them why they 
persisted in worshiping the devil instead of God. The reply was, "God 
is good, God is love and don't hurt anybody do as you please, God 
don't hurt you; but do bad and the devil will get you sure! We need 
not bother about God, but we try to keep on the good side of the devil." 
The Southern Negro likewise gives the devil as a personage consider- 
ably more attention than is paid him by the present whites, though in 
the past both in Britain and in the Early Colonies as well as in other 
parts of the world this personage was greatly feared if not actually 
respected, seeming to show that the Africans were not alone in their 
emphasis of the malevolent element in religion. 113 

Other comments on Negro concepts of the Devil may be cited to 
clarify the position further: 

Satan ... is a familiar figure in negro songs. It is to be noted that 
while he is a very real and terrible personage; there is always a lively, 
almost mirthful suggestion in the mention of his name. . . . The per- 
sonality of Satan is, therefore, at once a terror and a source of enjoy- 
ment to the negro. The place he holds in negro theology is not unlike 
that which he occupied in the miracle plays of the middle ages. There 
seems an inherent tendency to insincerity in negro demonology. Satan 
is a decided convenience. It J always possible to load upon him what 
else must be a weight upon the conscience. That Satan holds the sinner 
responsible for this has its compensation again in the fact that Satan 
himself is to be dethroned. 114 

Hurston, who discusses the Negro point of view with the intimacy 
of inside knowledge, describes the character of the Devil as con- 
ceived by Florida Negroes in these terms : 

The devil is not the terror that he is in European folk-lore. He is a 
powerful trickster who often competes successfully with God. There 
is a strong suspicion that the devil is an extension of the story-makers 
while God is the supposedly impregnable white masters, who are never- 
theless defeated by the Negroes. 115 

That this Devil is far from the fallen angel of European dogma, 
the avenger who presides over the terrors of hell and holds the souls 
of the damned to their penalties, is apparent. So different is this 
tricksterlike creature from Satan as generally conceived, indeed, that 
he is almost a different being. To account for the difference, there- 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 253 

fore, we Jbum^4*a4e^that character-m Dahomean-Yoruba mythol- 
ogy, the divine trickster and the godjai accident known as "Legba"; 
the deity^whxj wfeTds his great power because of his "ability to outwit 
his-fetttrw" gods. His importance in the daily fife of~these West 
Africans has ^already been discussed. We know beyond dispute that 
it has carried over into the New World in the evidence cited from 
Brazil, Guiana, Trinidad, Haiti, and New Orleans. Here under 
various names Lebba, Legba, Elegbara, Liba he rules the cross- 
roads and, as an extension of his powers and duties in West Africa, 
"opens the gate" for the other gods at all rituals. It is of some im- 
portance to note that, in West Africa, this deity is identified with 
the Devil by missionaries ; and considered from the point of view of 
their world concept, tuned as it is to a dichotomy between good and 
bad, this celestial trickster who balks the gods with his cunning 
could easily be interpreted in this fashion. It is thus understandable 
how, in the New World, where Protestantism placed special em- 
phasis upon the difference between good and evil, the reinterpreta- 
tion of this deity as the Devil was especially logical. 

Yet reinterpretation was more verbal than otherwise ; in no sense 
did it involve a wholehearted acceptance either of the Devil's per- 
sonality as depicted in Christian theology or his function as the 
representative of evil in the universe. _The tradition in African 
thought which.holds nothing to be entirely good or entirely bad goes 
so deep that it is hard to see how it could be given over for the less 
realistic European penchant for concepts phrased in terms of blacks 
and whites. We have already seen this African point of view opera- 
tive in the United States in such matters as assigning to charms or 
other supernatural devices powers at once good and evil. This is of 
a psychological piece with the pliancy of the Negro in social situa- 
tions that makes of him the diplomat who has been able to weather 
some of the hardest times known to any group of human beings. 

How much closer the Devil of American Negroes is to the char- 
acter of the African trickster-god than to the bearer of his name 
among non-Negro peoples can be seen from the following descrip- 
tion of one of the Devil's West African counterparts: 

Legba is essentially a trickster; but like all supernatural Dahomean 
forces, he can be beneficent as well as malevolent. More than any other 
deity ... he must be worshiped by all regardless of cult affiliation, 
for as messenger of all the gods and their spokesman, he is the one to 
be propitiated if a request is to be granted by a supernatural force ; he 
alone has the power to set aside certain misadventures in the destiny of 
a person, and the power, also, to add to them. 116 



254 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

It is thus apparent that, while Christianity gave to the Negroes in 
the New World much of its own world view, in the United States, 
where the perpetuation of African gods under their own names was 
impossible, the process of readjustment permitted the deity to sur- 
vive under a different designation. That he survived thus disguised 
does not matter, for disguise, itself a technique of survival, is highly 
congenial to the African habits of thought that, as we can see, were 
never entirely given over by the Negroes in their new setting. 

Another Negro belief that may well be the survival of a concept 
having wide distribution in West Africa concerns what may in 
broadest terms be called "little people/ ' It has never been formu- 
lated carefully by those who have studied the folk-beliefs of Negroes 
in this country, but here and there a sentence or a paragraph in the 
literature is highly suggestive of the possibilities of systematic in- 
quiry into the nature and functioning of such beings. 

One of the earliest accounts in which creatures of this type figure 
is a discussion of the folk-tales of Georgia, wherein a version of the 
well known tar-baby story is being discussed : 

As I heard it in one of the southernmost counties of the State, the 
tar-baby was by no means a mere manufactured, lifeless snare, but a 
living creature whose body, through some mysterious freak of nature, 
was composed of tar, and whose black lips were ever parted in an ugly 
grin. This monster tar-baby, which haunted the woods and lonely places 
about the plantation, was represented as wholly vicious in character, ever 
bent upon ensnaring little folks into its yielding, though vice-like em- 
brace. Well do I remember the dread of encountering the ogre-like 
creature in some remote spot, where I should be unable to withstand 
its fascinations; for it was said to be impossible to pass the tar-baby 
without striking it, so provoking was its grin and so insulting its be- 
havior generally, and when once you had struck it, you were lost. I 
was always on the lookout for it, but, it is needless to say, I never 
encountered it, except in dream-land, where again and again was suf- 
fered the unspeakable horror of being caught and held stuck fast in its 
tarry embrace. 117 

This document is interesting for many reasons other than the 
African tradition mirrored in it, and may first be compared to data 
gathered among the Negroes of the town of Paramaribo, Dutch 
Guiana, where the belief in the dwarfs called bakru causes mothers 
to instill in their children much the same fear that is expressed in 
the lines quoted above. These dwarfs, half wood, half flesh, are 
"given" by a practitioner of evil magic to a client who wishes wealth. 
They "work" for their owner; should someone try to strike them, 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 255 

they present the wooden side and then kill the one who has tried to 
harm them. Eventually : 

After the owner of a pair of bakru dies, and there is no one to care 
for them, they disappear to live on the road. A favorite diversion of 
theirs is to mingle with children who are on their way home from 
school. They try to touch the children, to tease them, and to offer them 
a drink. It is death for a child to drink from the little bottle each bakru 
carries in his pocket. ... A woman whose own aunt had had two 
such creatures, looked under the bed after her aunt died, caught a 
glimpse of the bakru, and fled. They were very black, black hair, black 
skin, black eyes, . . . like Bush-Negro children. 118 

Several points of resemblance between the tar-baby of Georgia 
and the bakru of Guiana are to be discerned at once their black- 
ness, the appeal they have for children, and the danger that comes 
when children come into their power. The differences must also be 
considered, the most important for our purpose being that the tar- 
baby is reported as a huge figure, while the bakru are small and 
child size. 

We may turn next to certain other citations which tell of what, 
on the surface, may seem to be beliefs appertaining to somewhat 
different beings. For the following citations we are indebted to 
Puckett's thorough search of the literature and his painstaking rec- 
ords gained after personal inquiry in the field. The first, from the 
literature, states: 

In one Gullah district, Sabey, whom the Negroes feared because of 
his ability to throw spells, was a "queer, misshapen mulatto, almost an 
albino, with green eyes and yellow wool lighting and thatching a shrewd 
and twisted, though good-natured monkey face." 119 

An informant in Mississippi reported that : 

Others say that hoodoomen, who always have long hair and beards, 
always carry a loaded cane with which they tell whether you are honest 
or not. 120 

In both these citations we encounter concepts that may be expressed 
in most generalized form as the association of abnormality with 
supernatural powers in the case of the Sea Island creature, dwarf- 
ism and albinism; in that of the hoodooman, long hair and beard, 
physical traits not commonly encountered among Negroes. Two 
more quotations are pertinent at this point. One reads : 

A Georgia convert told of God being a little white man two feet high 



256 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

with pretty hair, ending her testimony by mourning and singing, "Ain' 
dat pretty hair? Ain' dat pretty hair?" 121 

The other, from a Columbus, Mississippi, informant, is as follows : 

Escape from an embarrassing predicament is another favorite theme, 
illustrated by the escape of "de widder-woman frum de Hairy Man. 
De Hairy Man had cotched her in de woods an* was fixin' ter kill her," 
but she asks for a few moments in which to pray. The "Hairy Man" 
didn't know what prayer was, so the woman took advantage of this spir- 
itual ignorance to call her dogs, who ate up her monstrous assailant. 122 

We may now turn to West Africa for comparative materials 
which will bring these strands together. Rattray speaks of various 
kinds of supernatural beings which among the Ashanti empower 
magic charms. Of the suman, or charm, he states : 

The power of suman comes from mmoatia (fairies), Sasabonsam 
(forest monster of that name), saman bofuo (ghosts of hunters), and 
abayifo (witches). 123 

Illustrations are given of wood carvings made by Ashanti artists of 
the first two types of creatures named above. 124 The Sasabonsam is 
large in contrast to the two mmoatia, the larger creature being dis- 
tinguished by its long hair on head, face, and in the pubic region. 
The text implements the illustrations. Of the mmoatia, described 
by Rattray somewhat unfortunately in the citation above as- 
"fairies," he says: 

The most characteristic feature of these Ashanti "little folk" the 
word mmoatia probably means "the little animals" is their feet, which 
point backwards. They are said to be about a foot in stature, and to be 
of three distinct varieties : black, red, and white, and they converse by 
whistling. The black fairies are more or less innocuous, but the white 
and the red mmoatia are up to all kinds of mischief, such as stealing 
housewives' palm-wine and the food left over from the previous day. 
The light-coloured mmoatia are also versed in the making of all manner 
of suman which they may at times be persuaded to barter to mortals by 
means of the "silent trade." . . , 125 

The Sasabonsam, to which Rattray cites a parallel far to the east in 
the Niger Delta region from Miss Mary Kingsley's West African 
Studies, 12 * are described as follows : 

The Sasabonsam of the Gold Coast and Ashanti is a monster which 
is said to inhabit parts of the dense virgin forests. It is covered with 
long hair, has large blood-shot eyes, long legs, and feet pointing both 
ways. It sits on high branches of an odum or onyina tree and dangles its 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 257 

legs, with which at times it hooks up the unwary hunter. It is hostile 
to man, and is supposed to be especially at enmity with the real priestly 
class. Hunters who go into the forest and are never heard of again 
as sometimes happens are supposed to have been caught by Sasabon- 
sam. All of them are in league with abayifo (witches), and with the 
mmoatia, in other words, with the workers in black magic. As we have 
seen, however, and will see again farther on, their power is sometimes 
solicited to add power to the suman (fetish), not necessarily with a 
view to employing that power for purposes of witchcraft, but rather the 
reverse. 127 

Directly comparable with these "little people" of the Ashanti are 
the ijimere of the Yoruba and the azizan of Dahomey. 128 These are 
creatures which, in the forest, accost hunters and give to them the 
knowledge of medicines and of magic that makes those who follow 
the occupation of hunter so powerful. Similarly comparable to the 
Ashanti Sasabonsam are the Dahomean yehwe zogbanu, the forest- 
dwelling, many-horned, fire-breathing monsters who are the subject 
of numerous tales in which the hunters, like the Mississippi woman 
caught in the * 'embarrassing predicament/' are saved by some occur- 
rence phrased in terms of the "Flight up the Tree" motif, wherein 
the one attacked devises some trick which enables him to call his 
dogs and thus outwit his pursuers. 

The fascination which creatures of this sort hold for Africans 
cannot be underestimated. They figure in the thought and interests 
of the people, as reflected both in their everyday conversation and 
in their tales and myths. Their living quality can only be realized 
by those who have had firsthand contact with a functioning lore, 
that is not merely a collection of old wives' tales, representing hap- 
penings of the long ago. In the disintegration accompanying the 
acculturative process, these figures with their misshapen bodies, their 
hairiness, their supernatural powers, their whistling, and their fond- 
ness for trickery and destroying human life have understandably 
merged into one another, becoming blurred in outline and confused 
in attribute and function. Yet they are unmistakable in the quota- 
tions that have been cited. The mmoatia have lost their characteristic 
of backward-turned feet at least, no such "little folk" have as yet 
been reported from the New World but traits of the "white" and 
"red" varieties of mmoatia are to be discerned in the magic role 
assigned the Sea Island dwarf and the concept of God that came to 
the Georgia convert, while the half-wooden dwarfish bakru and the 
huge tar-baby likewise partake of other characteristics attributed to 
these Ashanti figures. Greater detail from other tribes of West 



258 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Africa is necessary if the variation in these creatures as envisaged 
over the entire area is to be grasped ; in the New World, too, further 
search needs to be made for their survivals. When such data are in 
hand, however, we will be able to fill in our present rough outlines 
with precise knowledge of how, under acculturation, the merging of 
traits from various African tribes represented by the slaves worked 
out into generalized belief of the type embodied in these manifesta- 
tions of the "little folk" concept. 

Ghosts, witches, and vampires are as well known in Africa as in 
Europe, so that in this case the problem is to indicate the African 
aspects of the belief in these beings found among Negroes of the 
United States. Parsons speaks of old women being regarded as 
witches in the Sea Islands, and tells the preventive measures to be 
taken when they are thought to be about : 

. . . there is the familiar belief about hags women who shed their 
skins and victimize sleepers "ol* haigs what ride people in de sleep." 
And the precautions to be taken are likewise familiar. "Say if you want 
to ketch dat haig, you scatter mustard-seed fo' de do', 'cause mustard- 
seed so fine, pick dat up 'til morning/' or again, you must put salt and 
pepper in the discarded skin. 129 

A description of the powers of these old women as conceived by 
Missouri Negroes, though perhaps overdramatized, may likewise 
be set down : 

Granny . . . knew a charmed child when she saw one, and was re- 
solved to do what she could to relieve the unconscious victim. Oh ! She 
knew Aunt Mymee, and so did the others. Although they visited and re- 
ceived her in turn, although she had lived in the cabin a few rods from 
Granny's for years, not one of them ever went to bed at night without 
hanging up a horse-shoe and a pair of wool-cards at the bed's head. Not 
one of them failed to pour a cup of mustard or turnip-seed on the door- 
step and hearth, so that she would have to count all those seeds before 
she could go in at the door, or down the chimney to tie their hair into 
knots ; to twist the feathers in their beds into balls as solid as stone ; to 
pinch them with cramps and rheumatism ; to ride on their chests, hold- 
ing by their thumbs as by a bridle, while she spit fire at them till cock- 
crow. Not one of them had any doubt as to her ability to jump out of 
her skin whenever she pleased, and take the form of owl, black dog, cat, 
wolf, horse, or cow. Not one of them merely suspected, she knew 
Mymee could appear in two places at once, ride a broomstick or a bat 
like a charger, and bring sickness and bad luck of all sorts on whomever 
she pleased. 130 



AFRICANISMS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE 259 

Vampires also have their describable habits : 

Vampires are not common, but one Negro tells of a young girl con- 
stantly declining while an old woman got better and better. This was 
because the harridan sucked young folks' blood while they slept. "De 
chillun dies, an' she keeps on alivin'." 

Another Missouri "witcher-ooman has blood sucking children." 131 
There are several ways of keeping these creatures from one's house : 

Salt sprinkled thoroughly about the house and especially in the fire- 
place; black pepper or a knife about the person; or matches in the hair, 
all bring dire perturbation to these umbrageous visitors. . . . Ha'nts, 
like witches, may also be kept away by planting mustard seed under 
your doorstep, or by keeping a sifter under your head while asleep. 
Some say that ghosts will not budge from a foot with fern seed in the 
hollow, though one informant recommends fern seed or sulphur to keep 
spirits away. 132 

This same student gives attention to the African derivation of 
certain of these methods : 

The greatest variance among the Negroes is to be found in the great 
number of methods used in avoiding or driving off witches. The most 
common legend in this regard is that of an old witch who took off her 
skin, hung it on the wall and went off to ride some one. While she 
was gone a man slipped in and sprinkled red pepper in the skin. The 
witch came back and tried to slip it on. "What de mattah, skin? Skinny, 
doan* you know me? Doan' you know me, skinny! Doan' you know 
me!" she cried in agony, hopping up and down until she was finally 
discovered and killed. In various forms this same plot exists all through 
the South in Georgia, Missouri, Virginia, Louisiana, North Carolina 
and the Sea Islands, as well as in the Bahamas. The belief is too wide- 
spread to be an independent development ; to the best of my knowledge 
it is not found in Europe ; but in West Africa there is the widespread 
idea that the witch leaves her skin behind on going out, and among the 
Vais it is thought that salt and pepper will prevent her getting back 
into her hide. 133 

Yet these methods of discovering, holding, and punishing witches 
and vampires are present not only in the two parts of West Africa 
indicated by the references, but they have also been found, in the 
course of field-work, in Nigeria, Dahomey, and among the Ashanti, 
and, in the New World, in Guiana, Haiti, Jamaica, Barbados, and 
Trinidad. In Dahomey, there are those who will warn one to beware 
the old women with bloodshot eyes who sell in the market, since 
haggling with them will anger them and bring on their vengeance; 



260 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

or, in Nigeria, to be on guard against old men and women, because 
they are capable of translating their love of evil-doing into action. 
What seems to be 'European in the citations given above broom- 
stick riding, the ability to turn oneself into an animal is, however, 
African as well, and represents the strengthening of belief when 
comparable phenomena in the two cultures come into contact. How 
close European belief is to African, where such characteristics are 
concerned, is made plain by Rattray's tale of how witches were con- 
ceived by his Ashanti informant : 

"The majority of witches are women/' he continued, "but they need 
not necessarily be very old women. If an old witch wishes her daughter 
to become a witch she will bathe her repeatedly with 'medicine' at the 
. . . kitchen-midden. The great desire of a witch is to eat people, but 
she will not do this so that any one may see; they suck blood. Each 
witch has a part of the body of which she is particularly fond. . . . 
The person, on awakening, will complain of illness and die before 
nightfall. . . . Witches always try to obtain some object that belonged 
to the person whom they wish to kill, such as hair, nail-cuttings, or 
waist-beads ; witches can transform themselves into birds, chiefly owls, 
crows, vultures and parrots; into house-flies and fire-flies, into hyenas, 
leopards, lions, elephants, bongo and all sasa animals, and also into 
snakes." 134 

It is apparent that this leaves such patent transformations to be 
accounted for as are dictated by life in the temperate zone cows, 
horses, wolves, and the like and indicates that the concept of the 
broomstick as a means of locomotion is European. But, by the same 
token, this passage significantly documents the manner in which 
beliefs derived from various portions of the Old World have rein- 
forced each other, and indicates once again the caution needed when 
discussions are couched in terms that ascribe to any one area the 
role of absolute source of provenience for traits found both in 
Europe and in Africa. 



Chapter VIII 

THE CONTEMPORARY SCENE: LANGUAGE 
AND THE ARTS 



It has long been held that the principal contribution of the Negro 
to the culture of the Americas, and most particularly to the culture 
of the United States, lies in the expression of his musical gift. 1 
Since the "discovery" of the spirituals shortly after the Civil War, 
and markedly in recent years with the spread of the "blues" and the 
development of jazz and swing, musicians have drawn freely on 
Negro folk melodies and rhythms. In some instances the borrowing 
has been direct, as where Negro religious songs have found their 
way into the hymnals of the white churches. "Swing Low, Sweet 
Chariot," for example, is as familiar to whites as to Negroes, and 
in all likelihood is sung more frequently by the former than by the 
latter. The tendency of white song writers to take over the stylistic 
values and melodic progressions of Negro music, as occurs in such 
popular songs as "Ole Man River" and "That's Why Darkies Were 
Born," is another case in point. A third influence of Negro music 
finds expression in the more serious works. Dvorak's symphony 
"From the New World" has set a fashion that has been increas- 
ingly followed, until today its manifestations range from immediate 
applications of Negro musical idiom, as in Gershwin's opera Porgy 
and Bess, through the reworking of this idiom in such compositions 
as Powell's "Southern Rhapsody," to its less conscious translation 
in recent works by such younger white American composers as Roy 
Harris and Aaron Copland. 

In the light of the wide popularity of Negro folk music, and the 
inspiration it has been to composers, it is strange that it has not 
been subjected to a more extensive musicological analysis. Such 
studies as are found are too often marked by the undocumented 
assertion that has become familiar in the preceding chapters as 
characterizing Negro studies in general, so that, as in regard to 
other aspects of Negro culture, controversy as to derivations typi- 

261 



262 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

cally takes the form of mere statement and counterstatement. In the 
main, these discussions turn upon the extent to which Negro music 
reflects African patterns or is merely a revamping of European 
thematic materials borrowed from the whites. The supporting evi- 
dence is largely confined to studies of Negro religious songs 
spirituals as these are related to white religious music. Rare, in- 
deed, are the available comparisons between the Negro music of the 
United States and Africa while, moreover, students have almost 
completely failed to recognize that the Negro songs of the United 
States are but part of a larger body of New World Negro music. 
Yet this larger body of song, as found in the Caribbean and Latin 
America, offers not only a sure approach to an understanding of 
the processes that have brought into being the various forms of 
Negro music we know today, but also affords a rare opportunity to 
study, under the unusual conditions of historic control already com- 
mented on, a problem of wide implications for an understanding of 
change in musical style wherever this occurs. 

It is of some interest to trace the changes in point of view as to 
the origins of Negro music that have taken place in the United 
States. It was first assumed that, in essence, the songs of the 
Negroes represented a welling forth of the anguish experienced 
under slavery. 2 In time, however, opinion grew that, since this music 
differed from other forms of musical expression, Africa was to be 
looked to for an explanation of its essential characteristics; this 
point of view was most clearly and vigorously expressed in a vol- 
ume by the musicologist and music critic, H. E. Krehbiel. 3 Kreh- 
biel's special concern with Negro songs stemmed from his friendship 
with Lafcadio Hearn and George W. Cable, whose interest in the 
Negroes of Louisiana had resulted in the collection of a considerable 
number of voodoo cult songs from New Orleans, wherein non- 
European elements are pronounced. Krehbiel had heard some sing- 
ing by African Negroes at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893, 
and this undoubtedly influenced his approach. Yet, as with all later 
writers who treated of Negro songs, he made no detailed study of 
African musical style, but relied mainly on what he could glean 
from travelers' accounts and other nonmusical works. 

No serious critique of Krehbiers materials has ever been under- 
taken, but in 1926 a paper by the late Erich M. von Hornbostel, the 
distinguished musicologist of the University of Berlin, suggested a 
new line of thought 4 and initiated a countercurrent that has today 
become dominant among students. According to von Hornbostel, 
who based his conclusions on impressions of Negro singing during 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 263 

a brief visit to the United States, the outstanding aspects of the 
Negro spirituals are European, such characteristics as the pentatonic 
scale, the "Scotch snap," and a tendency to harmonize in thirds all 
being well-known traits of white folk music. Only one such feature 
is held to be of African derivation "leading lines sung by a single 
voice, alternating with a refrain sung by the chorus/' Hornbostel 
concluded that in the United States the Negroes have evolved a real 
folk music which, while neither European nor African, is an expres- 
sion of the African musical genius for adaptation that has come out 
under contact with foreign musical values. "Had the Negro slaves 
been taken to China instead of to America, they would have devel- 
oped folk-songs in Chinese style"; as it was, they devised "songs 
made ... in European style." The purely African element in this 
music is the manner of singing these songs ; in motor behavior alone 
has aboriginal habit persisted : 

Not what he sings is so characteristic of his race, but the way he 
sings. This way of the Negro is identical in Africa and in America and 
is totally different from the way of any other race, but it is difficult, 
if not impossible, to describe or analyze it. 5 

Most students today lay emphasis upon the importance of what 
the Negroes borrowed from European melodies, a position typified 
by the analyses of Newman White, 6 George Pullen Jackson, 7 and 
G. B. Johnson. 8 Their position holds that whatever African ele- 
ments may be present in the spirituals they have not considered 
to any extent the musical structure of other types of Negro song 
found in the United States the correspondence between them and 
the religious songs of the whites are so close and so numerous that 
one need search no further. Some retention of African elements is 
admitted to have been possible, but these are held to be of such slight 
incidence as to be almost negligible. 9 

Yet, we ask once again concerning this element of Negro life, 
can any analysis of affiliations based on the scrutiny of only one or 
two possible sources be regarded as valid from the point of musico- 
logical and historical scholarship? There is, indeed, a certain sig- 
nificant malaise concerning the point. Herzog, 10 who emphasizes the 
absence of African elements in the spirituals, but who has worked 
in Liberia (the music he collected there has not been published, nor 
has any analysis of the relationship between it and the songs of the 
Negroes in the United States been made available), stresses the 
need for considering the African element in the equation when 
reviewing works by Johnson and Jackson. 11 "All discussions of the 



264 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Negro Spirituals have suffered, and still suffer, through insufficient 
knowledge of African musical material/' he writes; and he under- 
scores the caution later in the same review when he states that, "it 
is definitely necessary to utilize the available findings on African 
music more seriously and painstakingly than has been done thus 
far/' Johnson, in his 1931 paper already cited, also mentions the 
matter : "It may be objected that I have started at the wrong end of 
the investigation of the relation of the spirituals to African and to 
English music, that the African side should have come first. " The 
reservation, however, is explained in terms of the special techniques 
needed for analysis of tribal music, and the paucity of the compara- 
tive African materials. 

It is undeniable that above anything else more data are needed, 
for the major musicological problems of Negro songs can be solved 
only by intensive study of an adequate body of transcriptions of 
recorded melodies and rhythms. The range of variation in Negro 
music in scale value, general form, and rhythmic structure ; whether 
the songs of a given tribe of Africa have a style restricted to the 
group or are a part of a more widespread pattern; what has hap- 
pened to these various tribal and regional styles under contact with 
European music in the New World when the differences and simi- 
larities found between the generalized characteristics of Old World 
European and African music are considered all these must await 
systematic recording, careful transcription, and concentrated analysis. 
Far greater attention must be given to nonreligious folk music of 
United States Negroes than has hitherto been accorded songs of 
this kind. They have attracted a certain degree of attention from 
those concerned with analyzing their words. But the actual melodies 
and rhythms of work songs, of songs of recrimination and ridicule, 
of prison songs, are needed to supplement the rather extensive col- 
lections of spirituals available for study. 12 

In the West Indies, except for Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and in 
Guiana, almost no published materials can be found ; 13 even when un- 
published recordings are taken into account, our resources represent 
only a fragment of the materials. Brazilian recordings are almost 
nonexistent, while but little has been published of Negro music from 
that country; 14 and this is the more true for those portions of 
Latin America wherein Negro populations may have retained some- 
thing of their musical habits from Africa 15 and thereby influenced 
the songs of their European and Indian compatriots. 16 

It is essential to recognize, however, that transcriptions and 
analyses of recordings, no matter how carefully and minutely done, 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 265 

can for all their importance never tell the entire story of the rela- 
tionship of New World to African musical styles, nor of the differ- 
ences between the music of various parts of the New World. For, 
as von Hornbostel observed, the problem also involves the con- 
sideration of the intangibles of singing techniques and motor habit 
accompanying song quite as much as the actual progressions that 
may be copied down from recordings. 17 The matter has its analogy 
in the playing of jazz and swing; in the difficulties which the New 
York Symphony Society and Walter Damrosch, its conductor, 
found in mastering Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," or in the 
trials of European bands when they attempt to imitate the swing 
rhythms of the Americas. Even the style of white bands in the 
Western Hemisphere is noticeably different from that of the Negro 
organizations. 

Among these intangibles is the close integration between song and 
dance found everywhere in Africa. Motion pictures of African 
choruses accompanying their soloists show that even handclapping 
can become a dance, while in the New World this tendency to "dance 
the song," whether it is religious or secular, is a commonplace. Im- 
provisation is similarly a deeply rooted device of African singing. 
With broad social implications, especially in the songs of recrimina- 
tion so widely distributed in Negro cultures, its effect as a mechan- 
ism making for variation in the music of different peoples and in 
developing individual style calls for careful study. 

The pattern whereby the statement of a theme by a leader is re- 
peated by a chorus, or a short choral phrase is balanced as a refrain 
against a longer melodic line sung by the soloist, is fundamental, 
and has been commented on by all who have heard Negroes sing in 
Africa or elsewhere. The relationship of the melody to an accom- 
panying rhythm carried on by drums, rattles, sticks beaten one 
against the other, handclapping, or short nonmusical cries is also 
of the closest. So prominent is the rhythmic element in Negro music 
that this music as ordinarily conceived relegates the element of 
melody to second place. This, to be sure, is only partically valid, as 
is demonstrated by the performances of the Dahomean choruses 
of chiefs' wives when they sing songs of the royal ancestral cult, 
or by the long melodic line of some of the Shango cult songs from 
the island of Trinidad, or by some of the Brazilian Negro melodies. 
Yet the need to ornament an underlying rhythmic structure is funda- 
mental, and when Negro music as a whole is considered this trait 
must receive closest attention. 

The broad approach conceived here as essential is to be thought 



266 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

of as part of the program of study, detailed in our opening chap- 
ter. 18 In its musicological phase, this program has resulted in the 
systematic collection of a large series of related Negro songs from 
various historically linked portions of the Negro world. The two 
field-trips to Dutch Guiana yielded a collection of 255 songs from 
the Bush Negroes and those of the coastal city of Paramaribo, to- 
gether with some Haitian melodies obtained en route. These songs 
have been transcribed and analyzed by Dr. M. Kolinski, and in 1936 
were made available in published form. 19 During field-work in West 
Africa, 464 melodies were recorded, principally from Dahomey 
and the Ashanti of the Gold Coast, though a few songs from the 
Yoruba of Nigeria and the coastal region of Togoland were ob- 
tained. These songs have been transcribed and analyzed by Dr. 
Kolinski, but as yet have not been published. A further collection 
of 300 songs, made in Haiti, has also been studied by Dr. Kolinski. 
All the above were recorded on cylinders, since the conditions of field 
work did not make the employment of the types of electrical appa- 
ratus developed to that time feasible. 20 The lightening of electrical 
field recording equipment in weight, and the available facilities in 
Trinidad did make it possible, however, to obtain disk recordings 
of the music of the Negroes of this island during field work there, 
and some 325 melodies were added to the collection. 

These songs have been gathered with the constant objective of 
throwing as much light as possible on the problems of the results 
of cultural contact that are the focus of our discussion. In every 
case, all effort has been made to assure a fair cross section of the 
musical resources of each people studied; to gather, that is, as much 
information as could be obtained regarding the range of variation 
in their song types. For African tribes, this meant recording secular 
as well as religious songs, social as well as cult melodies, lullabies 
as well as dance tunes. Among New World folk, it meant not only 
collecting as many different kinds of songs from the same people as 
possible, but including a sampling of their entire repertory, without 
regard to derivation. Thus in Dutch Guiana, European nursery 
rhymes set to music were recorded as well as winti songs ; in Haiti 
a French marching song used in the vodun cult was as welcome as 
African melodies in praise of Ogun or Aida Wedo\ in Trinidad 
"Sankeys" Baptist hymns as well as possession songs of the 
Shango cult, which were accompanied by a full complement of 
African drums. It was, indeed, because of this insistence on the 
comprehensive approach that the representative recordings of these 
"Sankeys" are at hand not only to throw light on the development 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 267 

of the spirituals, but to clarify the entire question of the derivation 
of swing. 

Certain results of the work done thus far under this program of 
research may be indicated. In music, the principle operative in other 
aspects of culture makes it important to recognize that in this spe- 
cial case few New World Negro songs, whether in Guiana or Haiti 
or Brazil or the United States, are without some mark of European 
influence. In the music of the Suriname bush, or in some Haitian 
cult songs, pure African melodies and rhythms may be encountered, 
but these are exceptions. On the other hand, it is rare to find a 
Negro song which, though quite European in melodic line, is not 
tinged by some Africanlike modulation, or is not given a subtle 
turn by the manner of its singing. In Trinidad and Brazil and Cuba, 
Iberian and African rhythms have combined with particular felicity, 
perhaps because of an earlier influence of African Moorish melodies 
on the music of Spain and Portugal. In Guiana and Jamaica and 
the United States, other combinations are present; but it must be 
realized that they are combinations, all components of which must 
be weighted if we are to sense the developments that marked the 
syncretizing process. Certainly the conclusion that the African musi- 
cal tradition has in no case been entirely submerged is of primary 
significance; that no matter how intense or how long was its con- 
tact with European melodies, it has in some measure persisted. 

It has also become apparent that we can speak of "African" music 
in about the same degree as we can of "European" music. Just as 
there are certain underlying patterns of folk musical style that can 
be discerned in the analysis of Western European songs, so there 
are similar least common denominators in the music of West Africa 
and the Congo. Some of these latter have been mentioned, while 
those of Europe have received sufficient attention so that it is un- 
necessary to restate them here. In some instances these general pat- 
terns approach each other, which complicates the problem where 
certain similarities of this nature in the two traditions have coalesced 
and reinforced one another in New World Negro music. Thus the 
tendency to sing in thirds, which von Hornbostel assumed to be a 
European trait, is rather widespread in West Africa itself. The 
Ashanti of the Gold Coast, for example, rarely sing otherwise, and 
instances of melodies were recorded where a beginning was made 
anew when one member of a group of singers was out of key. Nor 
is this tendency to harmonize attributable to the relatively slight 
contacts these people have had with the English ; to assume this is 
to fall into the same error committed when in the United States 



268 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

only European sources are taken into account in studying the origins 
of Negro songs. 

Dr. Kolinskies analyses of the groups of related materials he has 
studied may be sketched to document the difficulties with which re- 
search into the problems of Negro music bristle. The songs of the 
Guianas, when first investigated, were found to vary from almost 
purely African to almost completely European; yet when the record- 
ings from Africa were available, it became necessary to revise this 
simplified conclusion in the light of the variations found in the large 
amount of African data at hand. A number of traits mark off 
Ashanti music from that of Dahomey, and these characteristics, in 
turn, differ from certain elements in the musical styles of Nigeria 
and Togoland. The Guiana Negroes, who are derived from all 
these territories, combined and recombined their local African styles 
in various ways while at the same time retaining examples of each 
in relatively undisturbed form. It is understandable how, when 
spirituals from the United States are compared with West African 
songs, this complexity becomes materially greater. For here not only 
must the inner combinations of varied West African types of music 
be taken into account, but a more far-reaching influence of various 
European styles as well. Yet even when the only available transcrip- 
tions, those published for general use, are employed, many African- 
isms are to be recognized. From the songs appearing in several such 
volumes of spirituals, 21 thirty-six were found to have the same scales 
(tonal structures) as specific songs in the West African collection, 
while identical correspondences in melodic line were even found in 
a few instances. Thirty-four spirituals had the same rhythmic struc- 
ture as some of the West African melodies, while the formal struc- 
ture of fifty spirituals their phrasing and time were found to 
have African counterparts. 

Just how the songs of the African gradually took on more and 
more European characteristics, as the Negroes experienced ever 
more contact with whites our fundamental problem in studying 
this aspect of culture is far from solved. The objective nature of 
the data obtainable in this field, however, gives it special importance 
for any attempt to throw light on the general inquiry of how the 
Negroes adapted themselves to the white patterns they encountered 
as slaves and as free men in the New World. It is necessary that 
the work to be done in recording Negro music be coordinated and 
extended ; that it blanket the entire geographical region and include 
songs of all kinds sung by New World Negroes and their African 
forebears wherever found; and that it be so prosecuted that the 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 269 

musical resources which have in the past stimulated folk singers and 
their more sophisticated fellows, the trained musicians, be made 
even more available to all those who are responsive to musical beauty, 
in whatever form met. 



The comparative study of African and New World Negro dances 
presents far more difficulties than does the study of music. For not 
only are the available data on the dance found in scattered literary 
descriptions of various occasions on which persons, usually untrained 
in the study of the dance, witnessed ceremonies of one kind or an- 
other, but no method has as yet been evolved to permit objective 
study of the dance. What we are reduced to, therefore, are state- 
ments of opinion of those who have witnessed Negro dancing in the 
New World and have found certain qualities in it that they feel 
resemble the African background more or less closely. Approaches 
to the study of the dance comparable to those worked out for music 
by such musicologists as von Hornbostel or by such psychologists 
as Seashore and Metfessel are entirely lacking ; other than a general 
recognition that motion pictures should be useful, almost no scien- 
tific approach has been devised. 

This does not mean that a beginning, albeit a small one, has not 
been made in studying the primitive dance. The manner in which 
the masked dances of the Dogon of French West Africa has been 
presented is one example of such an attempt. 22 After first filming 
the dances themselves, outline drawings were made of the principal 
figures, taken of? a series of single frames. The movements of the 
dancers are thu$ presented in their bare essentials, which makes it 
simpler than any other means yet devised to compare these figures 
with others similarly treated, or for those interested in dancing to 
reproduce the dance figures. The method is the more interesting be- 
cause of the inclusion, at the back of the book, of a small phono- 
graph record, which has the appropriate series of outline drawings 
of the dance printed on its face, and reproduces the drum rhythms 
employed. As far as Africanisms in New World Negro dances are 
concerned, this particular study is too isolated, and deals with a 
tribe sufficiently outside the area of intensive slaving operations, to 
hold any great importance except as concerns its methodological 
suggestions. Nonetheless, even in this case certain sketches of the 
sim dancer 23 are strikingly reminiscent of steps executed by Negro 



270 T^HE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

dancers in the United States, particularly in some of the more 
vigorous dances where " footwork" produces the desired effect. 

An attempt to begin the comparative study of dancing among 
Negro folk of the New World was made during 1936 by Miss 
Katharine Dunham in applying her training and experience as a 
dancer to the comparative study of Negro dancing in Jamaica, Mar- 
tinique, Trinidad, and Haiti. 24 Motion pictures of various dances 
were taken by her, to make possible comparisons between these and 
the motion pictures of dances obtained in Dahomey, the Gold Coast, 
Nigeria, Guiana and Haiti during the field work on which has been 
based much of the approach to the comparative study of Negro cul- 
tures and survivals of Africanisms in the New World discussed in 
these pages. To the present time, the most important result of Miss 
Dunham's field investigations has been in her own creative dancing. 
The popular successes achieved by her reproductions of the dances 
she studied add weight to the testimony of numerous dancers and 
laymen as to the familiarity of her dances to them in the light of 
their own experience with Negro dancing in this country, or of 
these dance patterns as diffused to the whites. Such reactions, de- 
spite their impressionistic nature, are not without significance in 
terms of the search for African survivals, pointing to the rich re- 
turns to be gained from systematic scientific analysis, on the basis 
of comparative studies, of the tenacity of African dance styles and 
the effect of acculturation on New World Negro dancing. 

That in its setting the dance presents the same kind of change in 
terms of fewer African elements as one proceeds in the New World 
from those areas where Africanisms have been preserved in great- 
est intensity in other aspects of culture to other localities where 
Africanisms are found in most dilute form is apparent. In Guiana, 
for example, and in the Haitian countryside the African character 
of the dancing is at once apparent to an observer who has witnessed 
West African dances. As one approaches the United States through 
the West Indies, however, the introduction of European dance pat- 
terns becomes more and more evident, until in the United States, 
as well as among the more acculturated upper socio-economic groups 
in the islands generally, pure African dancing is almost entirely 
lacking, except in certain subtleties of motor behavior. 

It is interesting to note, however, that European dances except 
for so-called "social" dances have been taken over most completely, 
not in the United States but in the West Indies. The reel and the 
quadrille, for example, are so important in Trinidad that the first 
has become the dance par excellence which accompanies African 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 271 

types of healing rituals, while the quadrille has become a favorite 
among the repertory to be witnessed at rites for the dead, taking 
equal place with the bongo and other African-type dances performed 
on such occasions. What is most European in the dancing of Ne- 
groes in the United States and elsewhere in the New World is when 
a man and a woman dance with their arms about each other. In 
Africa and among those West Indian Negroes who are less sophis- 
ticated in terms of acquaintance with white behavior, this is re- 
garded as nothing short of immoral. This reaction, it may be re- 
marked, is exactly similar to that of Europeans who witness for the 
first time the manipulation of the muscles of hips and buttocks that 
are marks of good African dancing, or the simulation of motions 
of sexual intercourse also found in certain quasi-ritual African 
dances. Yet these latter are no more and no less lascivious to the 
Negroes than are ordinary "social dances" to white persons, where 
a man and woman dance touching each other. 

Recognizable African dances in their full context are probably 
entirely lacking in the United States, except perhaps for the special 
area constituted by Louisiana; and they seem to have been absent 
for generations. At the time of which Cable wrote, however, the 
calinda, the vodun dances, the congo, the bamboula were all to be 
witnessed in New Orleans. The careful descriptions of these dances 
given by this observer are a notable contribution to our knowledge 
of how they were performed, being especially useful in linking 
them with related dances found at the present time in the West 
Indies. 25 What remains of this dance tradition cannot be said defi- 
nitely, but certain descriptions given by Hurston 26 and Saxon 27 in- 
dicate that some of the dances described by Cable and other earlier 
visitors to this scene still survive, despite their having been driven 
underground. 

African types of dancing elsewhere, as in Africa itself, are found 
in connection with various religious and secular situations. In the 
churches, the forms of spirit possession that have been described in 
preceding pages are essentially African, especially in so far as these 
include dancing as well as those more random, less organized 
motor expressions of hysteria such as "jerks" or bounding up and 
down. In the Gulla Islands, the secular dances where men and 
women dance opposite each other without touching are quite Afri- 
can; but in the main the marks of aboriginal lineage in secular dance 
forms are essentially in the dancing style to be seen in the move- 
ments of Negro "jitterbug" enthusiasts. 



272 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 



More attention has been paid to folklore than to any other aspect 
of New World Negro life. Not only is this true in the sense of the 
word in which it is interpreted to mean folk customs, but also 
in the special sense of signifying the literary aspects of folk life. 
Folk tales, proverbs, riddles, jokes, and other forms of Negro liter- 
ary expression have been collected since the Civil War. Moreover, 
collectors have not failed to record these elements in the Negro 
cultures of the West Indies and in West Africa as well as in the 
United States, so that a large quantity of materials exist for com- 
parative study. 28 

Though some writers have stressed European and Indian influ- 
ences in Negro tales, there is little question of the retention of Afri- 
canisms. Materials of this kind are particularly susceptible to ob- 
jective analysis, because of the many independent components which 
render assumptions of correspondence almost indisputable. A good 
example of how this operates is to be seen in the case of what is 
perhaps the best-known Negro story, The Tar Baby. It will be re- 
called that in essence this tale tells how a trickster-thief is himself 
tricked by the device of erecting in a field a figure made out of tar 
or some other sticky substance, to discover who is stealing the pro- 
duce. Coming in the dark, the trickster speaks to the figure, and when 
it fails to reply, rebukes it for the lack of good manners it shows 
(a significant Africanism!). After an ineffectual reprimand, the 
trickster strikes the figure with one hand, with his other, kicks it 
with one foot and then the other, and finally, in certain versions, 
butts the figure with his head, in which position he is held until 
eventually discovered. 

The story is so characteristic of West Africa, that Africanists 
have themselves long used Joel Chandler Harris's version of this 
Negro tale from the United States as a point of comparative refer- 
ence. There are some who maintain that the tale, as found both in this 
country and in Africa, originated in India; this is a matter of 
specialized and somewhat acrid controversy, which is so far from 
settled that it is still in the realm of conjecture and need not concern 
us here. 29 The fact that such a complex series of incidents should 
have been combined into this plot sequence, both among African 
and among New World Negroes, brings the inescapable conclusion 
that, whatever its place of absolute origin, the tale as found in the 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 273 

New World represents a part of the cultural luggage brought by 
Africans to this hemisphere. 

Difficulties of folklorists in search of provenience of New World 
Negro tales are not dissimilar to those already discussed where the 
underlying unity of Old World culture must be taken into considera- 
tion. As has already been stated, 30 especially strong unity is found 
in animal tales over the Old World, the important place of animal 
stories in the repertory of Negroes in all the New World thus being 
a reflection of the stimuli from Europe as well as Africa. The point 
is best made if we again briefly summarize the distribution of such 
tales. The Uncle Remus, or Anansi, stories found in the United 
States, or Jamaica, which parallel animal tales all over the African 
continent, also resemble so closely as to remove the similarities from 
the dictates of chance the fables of Aesop, the Reynard cycle of 
Europe, the Panchatantra of India, and the Jataka tales of China, 
to name but a few of the best-known series. Stories recorded in the 
Philippines, in Persia, and in Tibet, wherein animals are characters, 
exhibit the same series of incidents combined into plots wherein 
similar points are made. The characters show the greatest variation, 
as might be expected ; but whether rabbit, tortoise, or spider figures 
as the trickster in the New World and African Negro tales, or 
jackal and crow figure in the stories of India and ancient Greece, 
the animals do similar things in similar sequence for similar reasons. 
Stories having human characters show the same tendency toward 
wide distribution. The "Frau Holle" motif, that takes its name from 
the version in the German tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, 
offers an example of this. The story, found over all Europe and 
Asia an almost perfect parallel to the German form has been re- 
corded from Siberia is likewise widely spread in Africa, though 
this has not been pointed out until recently when, through compari- 
sons with Dutch Guiana Negro stories, African correspondences 
hitherto overlooked were revealed. 31 Another tale, best entitled by 
the catch phase "The Magic Flight," that was long thought to be 
restricted to Asia and Europe and, by diffusion, to the aboriginal 
Indian inhabitants of the Americas, turns out to be Old World, with 
a considerable distribution in West Africa and many correspond- 
ences among American Negroes. 32 Students of Negro lore in the 
United States, who tend to refer the "John Henry" cycle to recent 
events in the life of a definite Negro, may be freshly stimulated by 
considering the implications of the "Infant Terrible" 38 cycles of 
Africa for their study of derivations. 

The published materials in the field of folklore are so rich, indeed, 



274 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

that documentation here is neither possible nor necessary. An idea 
of the extent to which retentions are found may be obtained if the 
comparative notes to the collection of Dutch Guiana folklore already 
mentioned be consulted for the references to the motifs in these tales 
that are also found in West Africa, on the one hand, and in the 
United States and the West Indies, on the other. 34 Some indication 
of the nature of the acculturative accommodation can, however, be 
illustrated by an example taken from the recent, informally reported 
collection of Florida tales published by Hurston, 35 that have never 
been subjected to comparative analysis and are from an area where 
no previous collections of any appreciable size have been made. The 
tale explains why there are whitecaps on the water during a storm : 

De wind is a woman, and de water is a woman too. They useter talk 
together a whole heap. Mrs. Wind useter go set down by de ocean and 
talk and patch and crochet. They was jus' like all lady people. They 
loved to talk about their chillun, and brag on 'em. Mrs. Water useter 
say, "Look at my chillun! Ah got de biggest and de littlest in de world. 
All kinds of chillun. Every color in de world, and every shape!" De 
wind lady bragged louder than de water woman : "Oh, but Ah got mo' 
different chilluns than anybody in de world. They flies, they walks, they 
swims, they sings, they talks, they cries. They got all de colors from de 
sun. Lawd, my chillun sho is a pleasure. 'Taint nobody got no babies 
like mine." Mrs. Water got tired of hearin' 'bout Mrs. Wind's chillun 
so she got so she hated 'em. One day a whole passle of her chillun 
come to Mrs. Wind and says : "Mama, wese thirsty. Kin we go git us 
a cool drink of water ?" She says, "Yeah, chillun. Run on over to Mrs. 
Water and hurry right back soon." When them chillun went to squinch 
they thirst Mrs. Water grabbed 'em all and drowned 'em. When her 
chillun didn't come home, de wind woman got worried. So she went 
on down to de water and ast for her babies. "Good evenin', Mis' Water, 
you see my chillun today?" De water woman tole her, "No-oo-oo." 
Mrs. Wind knew her chillun had come down to Mrs. Water's house, 
so she passed over de ocean callin' her chillun, and every time she call 
de white feathers would come up on top of de water. And dat's how 
come we got white caps on waves. It's de feathers comin' up when de 
wind woman calls her lost babies. When you see a storm on de water, 
it's de wind and de water fightin' over dem chillun. 36 

This story, in the essential similarity of its employment of person- 
ified natural forces, its organization of plot and its explanatory 
point, may be compared with a tale often heard among the Yoruba 
and the Fon-speaking folk of Dahomey and Togoland, which in es- 
sence is as follows: 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 275 

In the early days stars shone during the day as well as at night. Those 
seen in the daytime were the children of the sun, and those seen at night 
were the children of the moon. One day, however, Moon spoke to Sun 
and proposed that, since the children were trying to outshine them, each 
put his children in a sack and throw them into the sea. Sun agreed to 
be first, but when the turn of Moon came she did not carry out her 
part of the bargain. This is why, when one looks at the sea in the day- 
time and sees colored fish, he is looking at the sun's children, no longer 
in the heavens. Sun is constantly seeking vengeance from Moon, and 
when they meet he swallows her ; so people come out when there is an 
eclipse and beat the drums and shout to frighten the sun and make him 
disgorge the moon. 37 

The malice of Moon's trickery has been lost in the transmutation of 
this tale in the United States, yet the other correspondences between 
the two leave no doubt of their historic affiliation. Other stories 
concerning God and Devil, or human or animal characters, which 
have similar explanatory bent, likewise have many parallels in West 
Africa, notable examples of this being in the "Bible tales" from the 
Sea Islands, where the process of reinterpretation stands out in stark 
relief. 38 

That such counterparts as these are found for explanatory tales 
and myths, as well as for the better-known African animal tales, 
would seem to indicate that the body of African mythology and folk 
tales has been carried over in even less disturbed fashion than has 
hitherto been considered the case. The changes that have occurred 
understandably reflect the flora, fauna, and other elements in the 
everyday experience of the Negroes in their new habitat. The stories 
also are changed, in that the supernatural figures among the char- 
acters are no longer vested with the power and forms of gods, as 
they ai^e in African mythologies. Yet in their humbler forms, they 
have persisted to testify, here as in other aspects of New World 
Negro life, to the vitality of the African cultural endowment 
brought by the Negroes to this side of the Atlantic. 



Just as folk tales are made up of the quasi-independent constitu- 
ents of plot, incident and character, so language consists of separate 
variables termed "phonetics," "vocabulary," and "grammar." In 
this field, the approach to the study of African survivals in the New 
World is to be made along two lines an attack on phonetic and 
semantic carry-overs, on the one hand, and on grammar and idiom, 



276 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

on the other. Most of the work concerning speech survivals has 
dealt with the first of these, effort being directed to discover those 
sounds of African or European origin to be discerned in Negro dia- 
lect and the related speech of white Southerners. Grammatical 
structure has been given almost no attention at all, since the ap- 
proach to this aspect of the problem has been dominated by the 
almost axiomatic principle that "pidgin" dialects reflect the lack of 
ability of inferior folk to take over the more complex speech habits 
of "higher" cultures. That this assumption is psychologically as 
well as linguistically untenable will be demonstrated later; for the 
present, it may merely be pointed out that what any individual does 
in learning a new language is to mobilize his new vocabulary re- 
sources in accordance with the speech patterns to which he has been 
conditioned, as is apparent when the phrasing of English by French- 
men or Germans is considered. 

The most recent work on Negro speech in the United States is 
that of Dr. Lorenzo D. Tuwier, of Fisk University. This research 
has been confined mainly to an analysis of the dialectic peculiarities 
of the Sea Island Negroes. This is the most distinctive form of 
Negro diction in this country, while study of these speech conven- 
tions has the added attraction of building on earlier linguistic re- 
search in these islands. Dr. Turner's greatest advantage over others 
who have studied the same problem in the same area, however, is 
that he alone has a background of firsthand study of African 
tongues, which makes it possible for him to discern survivals that 
would be incomprehensible to those without such training. Since his 
materials have not been published, abstracts from his preliminary 
reports and communications will be cited in extenso. The results of 
his own work may first be outlined in terms of a statement furnished 
by him : 

Up to the present time I have found in the vocabulary of the Negroes 
in coastal South Carolina and Georgia approximately four thousand 
West African words, besides many survivals in syntax, inflections, 
sounds, and intonation ... I have recorded in Georgia a few songs 
the words of which are entirely African. In some songs both African 
and English words appear. This is true also of many folk-tales. There 
are many compound words one part of which is African and the other 
English. Sometimes whole African phrases appear in Gullah without 
change either of meaning or of pronunciation. Frequently African phrases 
have been translated into English. African given names are numerous. 89 

The preliminary list to which reference has been made 40 gives but 
a portion of the materials this scholar now has available, since it 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 277 

does not include findings of the two years that have elapsed since 
its preparation. Turner, at the outset, assesses certain handicaps in 
the study of African survivals in New World culture which the 
linguist, like the ethnologist, has to overcome. In the first place, the 
conventionalized assurance of many authorities that there are no 
African survivals among New World Negroes figures in this lin- 
guistic field no less than in the study of other aspects of culture. 
This point is documented by reference to his own materials, which 
are called on to refute the position taken by most students : 

Ambrose E. Gonzales, who edited several volumes of Gullah stories and 
whose interpretations and reproductions of Gullah have been generally 
accepted as accurate, says that, "the African brought over or retained only 
a few words of his jungle tongue, and even these few are by no means 
authenticated as part of the original scant baggage of the Negro slaves. . . . 
As the small vocabulary of the jungle atrophied through disuse and was 
soon forgotten, the contribution to the language made by the Gullah 
Negroes is insignificant, except through the transformation wrought upon 
a large body of borrowed English words. " (The Black Border, pp. 17 f.) 

Then Gonzales published what was taken to be a complete glossary 
of Gullah. This contains about 1700 words, most of which are English 
words misspelled to indicate the Negro's mispronunciation. The other 
words in the glossary that are in reality African have been interpreted as 
English words which the Negro was unable to pronounce. For instance, the 
English phrase done for fat is given as being used by the Gullahs to mean 
excessively fat (the assumption being that in the judgment of the Gullah 
Negro when a person is very fat he is done for). But if Gonzales had had 
enough training in phonetics to reproduce the word accurately, it would 
have been ddfa, which is the Gullah word for fat, and if he had looked into 
a dictionary of the Vai language, spoken in Liberia, or consulted a Vai 
informant, he would have found that the Vai word for fat is dafa (~~ _) 
lit., mouth full. 41 

Many other words in Gonzales's glossary which, because of his lack of 
acquaintance with the vocabulary of certain African languages, he inter- 
prets as English, are in reality African words. Among other Gullah words 
which he or other American writers have interpreted as English, but which 
are African, are the Mende suwarjgD ( _), to be proud (explained by 
Gonzales as a corruption of the English swagger)] the Wolof lir, small 
(taken by Gonzales to be an abbreviated form of the English little, in spite 
of the fact that the Gullah also uses little when he wishes to); the Wolof 
bsnj (banj, bonj), tooth (explained by the Americans as a corruption of 
bone)] the Twi/a, to take (explained by the Americans as a corruption of the 
English for) ; the Wolof fut, to be nude (assumed by the English to be the 
English foot) ; the Wolof dsogal, to rise used in Gullah in the term d^ogal 
board, rise-up board, seesaw (explained by the Americans as juggling board); 
the Mende loni ( ), stands, is standing (explained by the Americans as a 



278 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

corruption of the English alone, said of a child who is beginning to walk 

Mende taloni O ), heis standing] Gullah iloni, he is standing, in Mende 

iloni (_""_) means he is not standing) ; etc. 

Apparently influenced by Gonzales's interpretation of Gullah, the late 
Professor Krapp of Columbia University, author of many publications on 
the American language and considered an authority in this field, without 
going to the trouble to acquaint himself either with Gullah or with any of 
the African languages spoken in those sections of the West Coast from 
which the Negroes were brought to the United States as slaves, writes in 
this fashion regarding Gullah: "The Gullah dialect," he says, "is a very 
much simplified form of English with cases, numbers, genders, tenses 
reduced almost to the vanishing point. . . . Very little of the dialect, how- 
ever, perhaps none of it, is derived from sources other than English. In 
vocabulary, in syntax, and pronunciation, practically all of the forms of 
Gullah can be explained on the basis of English, and probably only a little 
deeper delving would be necessary to account for those characteristics 
that still seem strange and mysterious." "Generalizations are always dan- 
gerous," he continues, "but it is reasonably safe to say that not a single 
detail of Negro pronunciation or Negro syntax can be proved to have other 
than an English origin." ("The English of the Negro," American Mercury, 
June, 1924) 

Mr. H. L. Mencken, in the 1937 edition of The American Language, says 
that the Negroes have inherited no given-names from their African ances- 
tors and that the native languages of the Negro slaves seem to have left 
few marks upon the American language, (pp. 112, 523) On one Georgia 
island alone, St. Simons, near Brunswick, I have collected more than 3000 
African words that are used as given-names. Mr. Mencken very probably 
never made any inquiries of the Gullahs concerning their given-names. 
Dr. Reed Smith, of the University of South Carolina, says: "What the 
Gullahs seem to have done was to take a sizeable part of the English vocab- 
ulary as spoken on the coast by the white inhabitants from about 1700 on, 
wrap their tongues around it, and reproduce it with changes in tonality, 
pronunciation, cadence, and grammar to suit their native phonetic tend- 
encies, and their existing needs of expression and communication. The 
result has been called by one writer, 'the worst English in the world/ It 
would certainly seem to have a fair claim to that distinction." "There are 
curiously," he continues, "few survivals of native African words in Gullah, 
a fact that has struck most students of the language"; and he lists about 
twenty words which he thinks may be African in origin, but he cites no 
parallels in the African languages. (Gullah, pp. 22, 23) 

Dr. Guy B. Johnson, contributing to one of the chapters in T. J. Woofter's 
Black Yeomanry, is of practically the same opinion as Dr. Reed Smith. 
He says: "There are older Negroes in the Sea Islands who speak in such 
a way that a stranger would have to stay around them several weeks before 
he could understand them and converse with them to his satisfaction. 
But this strange dialect turns out to be little more than the peasant English 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 279 

of two centuries ago, modified to suit the needs of the slaves. From Midland 
and Southern England came planters, artisans, shopkeepers, indentured 
servants, all of whom had more or less contact with the slaves, and the 
speech of these poorer white folk was so rustic that their more cultured 
countrymen had difficulty in understanding them. From this peasant speech 
and from the 'baby talk' used by masters in addressing them, the Negroes 
developed that dialect, sometimes known as Gullah, which remains the 
characteristic feature of the culture of the Negroes of coastal South Carolina 
and Georgia. . . . The grammar of the dialect is the simplified English 
grammar taken over from the speech of the poorer whites. . . . The use 
of many archaic English words no doubt contributed to the belief held in 
some quarters that the Sea Island Negroes use many African words." 
(Pp. 49, 51) 

The reaction of Dr. Turner to a methodology which is content to 
study a problem of provenience without taking all possible sources 
into account is familiar to the reader of these pages. For the assur- 
ance with which those quite innocent of any knowledge of African 
speech habits tend to draw sweeping conclusions regarding the pres- 
ence or absence of African words in this dialect, or in American 
Negro speech in general, parallels a similar tendency of the students 
treating other aspects of Negro culture. Dr. Turner's position in 
this matter is, however, reinforced by a further methodological 
consideration : 

... the Gullah Negro when talking to strangers is likely to use speech 
that is for the most part English in vocabulary, but when he talks to his 
associates and to the members of his family, his speech is different. 
My first phonograph recordings of the speech of the Gullah Negrpes 
contain fewer African words by far than those made when I was no 
longer a stranger to them. One has to live among them to know their 
speech well. 42 

The point is well taken. Linguists are not customarily trained in 
the techniques of the social sciences, and any white linguist must 
be prepared to surmount many barriers before he can attain the 
confidence of the proud, free folk of the Sea Islands. 

That the cautions which enlightened considerations of scholarly 
method dictate have not been observed by students whose concern 
has been with tracing African survivals in the vocabulary and pho- 
netics of Negro speech is thus apparent ; that work based on closer 
acquaintance with African tongues as well as with various dialectal 
manifestations of English is needed before adequate analyses of 
the linguistic acculturation of the Negro are to be made is the only 
conclusion that can be drawn at this time. Pending this future work, 



280 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

however, it would seem that far more African elements are to be 
looked for at least in Gullah vocabulary and pronunciation than 
has hitherto been realized. 

The assumptions underlying the approach to the study of syntax 
and idiom in New World Negro speech to be given below devel- 
oped out of an intensive analysis of texts recorded in Dutch Guiana 
in I929, 43 and may be recapitulated as follows: The Sudanic lan- 
guages of West Africa, despite their mutual unintelligibility and 
apparent variety of form, are fundamentally similar in those traits 
which linguists employ in classifying dialects, as is to be discerned 
when the not inconsiderable number of published grammars of 
native languages, spoken throughout the area from which the 
slaves were taken, are compared. 44 This being the case, and since 
grammar and idiom are the last aspects of a new language to be 
learned, the Negroes who reached the New World acquired as much 
of the vocabulary of their masters as they initially needed or was 
later taught to them, pronounced these words as best they were able, 
but organized them into their aboriginal speech patterns. Thus arose 
the various forms of Negro-English, Negro-French, Negro-Spanish 
and Negro-Portuguese spoken in the New World, their "peculiari- 
ties" being due to the fact that they comprise European words cast 
into an African grammatical mold. But this emphatically does not 
imply that these dialects are without grammar, or that they repre- 
sent an inability to master the foreign tongue, as is so often claimed. 

if this hypothesis is true, certain results should follow when these 
modes of speech are analyzed. In the first place, Negro linguistic 
expression should everywhere manifest greater resemblances in 
structure and idiom than could be accounted for by chance. Devia- 
tions from the usage of the European languages, furthermore, 
should all take the same direction, though the amount of deviation 
from accepted usage must be expected to vary with the degree of 
acculturation experienced by a given group. Finally, not only should 
these deviations be in the same direction, but they should be in ac- 
cord with the conventions that mark the underlying patterns of West 
African languages. 

Though this analysis was made some years ago, and therefore 
does not include reference to some of the more recent works on 
African languages, nor the studies of Haitian Creole that have ap- 
peared since that time, it may be cited at length, since these fresh 
data merely confirm its findings. Since this analysis was made from 
the point of view of taki-taki, comparisons were made to modes of 
Negro-English speech found elsewhere, but not to dialects deriving 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 281 

their vocabulary from other European languages. In quoting this 
analysis, references in the original discussion to the sentences in 
the texts have been deleted, since they can be easily checked in the 
original. Similarly, transpositions into taki-taki of the phrases taken 
from other Negro dialects are also omitted, being unnecessary in 
this present context where they would perhaps be confusing. The 
phonetic symbols employed are those customarily used in linguistic 
studies. 46 

The discussion opens with those taki-taki idioms which do not 
appear in European languages, indicating their occurrence elsewhere 
in the New World. The citations, it is pointed out, include texts 
taken from Gullah as well as from various West Indian Islands 
where Negro-English is spoken. 

We may name some of the characteristics that stand out as forms foreign 
to the idiom of European languages, but which occur with a consistency 
that characterises grammatical forms. Among these may be noted the 
absence of sex-gender in pronouns, and the failure to utilise any methods 
of indicating sex except by employing as prefix the word for "man" or 
"woman," or the use of relationship terms, like "father," "mother," 
"brother," "sister"; the manner of indicating the possessive; of expressing 
comparison; of employing nouns for prepositions of place. The use of a 
series of verbs to express a single action, or the use of verbs to indicate 
habitual and completed action also characterises this speech, as does the 
employment of the verb "to give" as a preposition, the use of "to say" 
to introduce objective clauses, making the only English translation pos- 
sible the word "that," the use of "make" in the sense of "let," of "back" 
to mean "again," "behind," "in back," and "after." Repetition of words 
for emphasis is a regularly employed mechanism, and this form is also used 
to indicate a more intense degree of the action, or to change a verb into a 
noun, while the verb "to go" often carries the significance of "will." M 

Stylistic traits that appear regularly are the opening of many sentences 
with the word "then," the change to the future tense to mark an explana- 
tory interval between two actions which are separated from each other in 
time, and the use of the adverb te to express emphatic distance, or effort, 
or emotion, or degree. Phonetically, also, deviations from the pronunciation 
of European words are quite regular, as, for example, the interchange of "r" 
and "1"; the degree of nasalisation, about which we have already com- 
mented; or the insertion of a "y" after "c" in such words as "car" and 
"carry" and "can't"; or the tendency to end all words with a vowel, so 
that "call" becomes kari or kali, "look" becomes luku, "must" changes 
to musu-, the use of elision and the dropping of final syllables. 

It soon became apparent that the characteristics which could be singled 
out in the Negro-English of Paramaribo were also manifested in other 
regions of the New World where Negroes speak English. Our first com- 



282 



THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 



parison was made with the speech of Jamaica, and in the following list 
we give some of the correspondences to Suriname speech we found. 47 



one great hungry time (p. i) 

take out the fishes, one one (p. i) 

mak I bu'n you (p. 4) 

belly full (p. 4) 

I will carry you go (p. 5) 

eat done (p. n) 

Tiger study fe him (p. n) 

knockey han' (p. 15) 

mak me wring de neck t'row 'way 

in de bag (p. 16) 
hungry tak him (p. 22) 
so-so dog-head (p. 22) 
carry the cow come (p. 27) 
it spoil (p. 33) 

he wanted to eat him one (p. 37) 
tell him mus' tak out piece of meat 

gi' him (p. 38) 
but me have one cock a yard fe me 

wife (p. 29) 

when dem ketch a pass (p. 44) 
see one little stone a river-side deh 

(p- sO 

me nyam-nyam taya (p. 54) 
run go (p. 55) 

roll in filth today-today (p. 56) 
so after de eat an* drink done (p. 

57) 

at door-mout' (p. 75) 
an' went away to ground (p. 93) 
kyar' me go sell (p. 153) 
catch half-way (p. 169) 
night catch him on de way (p. 180) 



wan bigi pina tern 

punt na fisi wan-wan 

mcW mi bnn yn 

here funt 

mi sa tyari yu go 

nyam kaba 

Tigri prakseri fo hem 

naki Jianu 

mek* wi broke na neki trowe na 

(iii na saka 
JiQngri tek' hem 
soso dagu-hede 
tyari na kqu kom 
a pyri 

a wani nyam hem wqwqn 
taki a mus' tek y wqn pis' meti gi 

'em 
ma mi habi wqn kaka na dyari fo 

mi weifi 

te den kisi 'a pasi 
si wq* pi kin sity a libasei de 

mi nyqm-nyqm tola 

I? go 

lolo na diti tide-tide 

so te den nyqm $n dr^ngi kaba 

na doro mtfo 

en gowe na gr? 

tya y mi go seri 

kisi 'af-pasi 

ne^ti kisi hem na pasi 



In addition we found correspondences in such pronunciations as "bwoy" 
(p. 2), for "boy," of "kyan't" (p. 2), for "can't," "kyan-crow" for "carrion- 
crow" (p. 80, Suriname yankoro) of "busha" for "overseer" (p. 80, Suriname 
basha or bassiq), while the words "nyam" for "eat," "Buckra" for Bakra, 
"white person" (p. 22), "oonoo" for "you" (p. 40, Suriname un, or unu), 
as well as the exclamation "Cho!" which is often heard in Suriname, were 
further indications of linguistic similarity between the two regions. 

However, these correspondences in speech were true not alone of the 
idiom and pronunciation of Jamaica where resemblances could be explained 
on definite historical grounds, for in our next comparison with the speech 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 283 

recorded by Parsons of the Andros Islanders in the Bahamas, 48 we found 
the following correspondences: 

says to Boukee, says (p. i) 

day clear (p. 3) 

dat sweet (p. 6) 

but bV Boukee was beeg eye (p. 9) 

Vwhen he reach in de half way (p. 19) 

an' he went, an' he meet no rabbit yet (p. n) 

de han' fasten (p. 13) 

gal, you love me so till (p. 14) 

brer, loose me (p. 16) 

next day evening (p. 19) 

finish eat (p. 24) 

Two-Yeye (p. 28) 

I sick bad (p. 30) 

bathed his skin (p. 37) 

... an killed two thousand men dead one time (p. 38) 

eat her bellyful (p. 39) 

time he hear dat, he get up an' call Lizabet, say ... (p. 44) 

they fry fowl egg, many cake, give him (p. 53) 

yer only goin' meet poppaone ... (p. 60) 

torectly Rabby cry ... (p. 85) 

. . . va you dere gwine? (p. 114) 

show you macasee (p. 141) 

As in Jamaica, there were also correspondences to Suriname pronuncia- 
tion. Many of these have been given above, but others are "kyarry" (p. 3, 
Suriname tyari) for "carry," "kyarridge" for "carriage" (p. 28), "ooman" 
(p. 115) for "woman," or "kyamp" for "camp" (p. 148). 

Yet another comparison was had when we analyzed the language of the 
tales recorded by Parsons 49 in the Sea Islands. Some of the correspondences 
to Suriname Negro speech we found in this collection are as follows: 

Rabbit tell Fox, said (p. 9) 

an' dat make Brer Rabbit have short tail ... (p. 18) 

... an' de tail come fo' white 'til to-day (p. 19) 

she was too happy now 50 (p. 24) 

tell de gyirl fo' love him (p. 25) 

. . , de han' fasten (p. 26) 

day clean (p. 28) 

man, don't you see all dis fresh meat 51 standin' in dis lot? (p. 32) 

Rabbit lie in de sun on his so' skin (p. 44) 

an' all her people died out an' leave her one 62 (p. 46) 

so he study ... (p. 78) 

. . . your rice too much better (p. 104) 

. . . people tell, say ... (p. 140) 



284 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

Some of the phonetic correspondences are "yeddy" (p. i, Suriname yere) 
for "hear," "kyart" for "cart," "kyarry" for "carry," "kyan't" for "can't" 
(p. i, and "shum" for "see him (or them)" (p. 18). Similar phrases and 
phonetic shifts 63 are to be found in the speech of the islands as reported 
by Peterkin, Gonzales, Stoney and Shelby, and Johnson. 

The common character of the idioms in Negro speech throughout 
the English-speaking New World thus demonstrated, the next step 
was to make comparisons between the pidgin dialects of West 
Africa, where natives have inherited the English of their fore- 
bears, who "picked up" a knowledge of the language in earlier 
times in much the same way as did New World Negroes : 

As only few data on pidgin are available, 54 it was necessary to go into 
the field to obtain the requisite material for such an investigation, and a 
field-trip to West Africa made this possible. During a short stay in Nigeria 
a small collection of tales in pidgin was made, 56 and though these num- 
bered but seven, the following significant phrases occurred in them : 

chop no de' (p. 448) 

my neck is pain me too much (p. 448) 

I be good man, true (p. 449) 

... all de white man, dey fit to make men by demself . . . 

(P- 455) 

w'en Adjapa reach inside de bird . . . (p. 451) 
an' her mother took one give to her pikin (p. 456) 
he run come from inside de hole (p. 458) 
. . . took de man fo' de house ... (p. 458) 
... if I salute you two more time . . . (p. 461) 

In Africa, as in the New World, we found the phonetics of Negro speech 
producing such changes in English pronunciation as "cyap" for "cap," 
"dyah" for "jar," "hyar" for "hear." 

The tales told us in Nigeria were given by informants who had some 
degree of schooling, and whose pidgin English was therefore modified by 
what teaching they had received. The extracts from historical tales of 
Dahomey which follow were told us, however, by an informant who had 
learned his English entirely "by ear." This man, a son of former King 
Behanzin, had left Dahomey and had lived in the coastal and interior 
regions of Nigeria for more than ten years, where, in the course of his 
everyday life, he had learned what English he knew. 

'Dis princess, she palaver too much. If he marry dis man today, tomor- 
row he go way leave 'um. He suffer everybody. He vex he fadder too much, 
so he sell um go 'way. He no can kill he own Daughter, so he sell go 'way. 
When he never see he daughter no mo', he sorry now. He say, "Who find 
daughter, I give dash plenty," say, "I give everyt'ing." Now dey bring him 
come. Now he start make lau again. He fadder say, "You be my proper 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 285 

blood," say, "I like you too much when you be quiet." But he make too 
much trouble. Sell 'em again to Portuguese. White man take him go. 
Dey de' fo' Whydah. Dey no go fo' sea yet. . . . Dis princess he was 
ploud. He was fine too much. He fine pass all woman. Dere was hole in 
Allada, nobody mus' go. Princess he steal he fadder sandal at night. Nex' 
day or woman see someone was in hole, come tell king. Everybody go for 
look, see king foot. King vex, say, he no go. Princess he laugh, say, "Who 
go? Look, you foot." ... He (Hwegbadja) give dem order again say, 
if be somebody go put faiah to anode* man house fo' burn anode' man 
house, if sometime he no like 'em, he burn house, if he see, kill 'um, bring 
him head come, show, say, "Dat man burn house." I see, I kill 'um. Den 
if he tell dem so, den man have enemy, take man who do not'ing, cut 
head and bring, den if he fin' man lie, he go kill 'um de same. Den he say, 
if take small small gyal (girl) no be big 'nough, if somebody spoil 'um 
dey go kill 'um. Make nobody see people dey pass wit' load, go sell 'um. 
If somebody do so, he go find out, he kill 'um . . . Den de people who 
de' fo' odde' king country de' Ion com' fo' Hwegbadja, say, "If my fadde' 
die, you go bury fo' me. To put fo' stick no good." ... So people like it 
too much.' 

Many of the idioms and phonetic shifts of Suriname speech, the West 
Indies, and the United States appear in these excerpts: "too much" for 
"very much," "sell go 'way" for "sell and send away," "bring him come" 
for "bring him (her)," "take him go" for "take away," "dey de' fo' Whydah" 
for "they are at Whydah," "dey no go fo' sea yet," literal translation of the 
Suriname den no gofo si yete, "ploud" for "proud," "he fine pass all women," 
the African comparative that finds its Suriname equivalent in a mqi miro 
da uma, "gyal" for "girl," "if somebody spoil 'em," the Suriname equiva- 
lent of pori in the significance of "deflower," "make nobody see people dey 
pass . . . ," metf nowq si suma den pasa, "Ion com" for IQ k^m^ and, finally, 
the use of the term "stick" to mean "tree," a usage which has its equivalent 
in the Saramacca use of the term p<%t, also "stick," for "tree." 

In Dahomey, a possession of France, this was the only English we heard. 
French has little pidgin, yet occasionally, in contact with a native who had 
not been educated in the schools, we would hear unefois, the French equiva- 
lent of the Suriname wq tr?, used exactly as the people of the Sea Islands 
employ "one time." We would hear a native telling another to go doucement, 
doucement,safri, safri, as the Suriname Negro has it, while phonetic shifts 
which cause the White man to eat "flied potatoes" in Nigeria and in Suri- 
name, make him eat pommes flites in the French territory of Dahomey, or 
cause a native to point out a young woman walking along the road with 
the remark "Cest mon flere, lit. Cest femme, eft?" 56 

Still pursuing the subject of correspondences between New World and 
West African Negro Engli^, we collected more tales in pidgin among the 
Ashanti of the British territory of the Gold Coast, among some of these 
very people to whom the Suriname Negroes, in their folk-lore, owe their 



286 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

trickster-hero, Anansi. We give here some of the correspondences in phrase- 
ology which are to be found in these stories: 57 

if Kwaku Anansi chop dat co'n he go die ... 

hunger go kill me 

hungry kill him too much 

w'y you big man sabi war, you no wan 7 go war, sen' pikin go? 

go kill 'em one time 

in de mawnin' time , . . 

w'en you go, don' go small, small like t'ief 

he run-go and cut it 

sasabonsam fin' dat he tail no de 

you must call my sheep come 

W'en Kwaku Anansi he come de, he no sabi, say, "Tiger sleep for 

de sheep place." 

He tell he husband, say, "I finish." 
den he fear too much 
den he sen' all him pikin one, one 
Den himse'f say, make he go see 'em 

dey laugh, laugh, laugh te . . . make small dey all two . . . 
dey run long te ... he no catch Aduwa 
he go cover hi'self someplace 58 
two weeks catch 
Some small, small man say, wan' go bush. W'en he go, he meeti 

some big wate' in bush de. 
Den he sta't to heah talk fo everyt'ing in de worl'. 

While with the Ashanti, we were also able to obtain some characteristic 
expressions from a member of the Mossi people from the Northern Terri- 
tories of the Gold Coast, whose pidgin was as untutored and as rich in flow 
as any we heard in West Africa. 

de chief hask dem say . . . 

So you be chief pikin. Make you sing, make me see. W'en you be 

chief pikin, me go know, 
he cover he sikin all 59 

w'en dey get up fo' dance, now dance go' 'bout six ya'ds 
he run go bush wit' pikin 
dis firs' time he de' fo' town 
rabbits den chop all bush meat 60 
so he cali a house again, say . . . 
rabbit he pass all sense for play trick 

Still other examples are to be found in Cronise and Ward's Temne tales. 
These are rendered in pidgin, and beside the idftmatic expressions and con- 
structions cited by the authors in their "Introduction," 61 the following may 
also be found: 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 287 

One ooman get girl-pickin (pickaninny), (p. 49) 

He go inside one big forest whey all de beef duh pass (p. 41) 

Spider take de hammer soffle (softly), he hit Lion one tern . . . 

(p. 43) 

De ooman ax de man: "Nar true?" (p. 47) 
Spider go nah puttah-puttah, he look sotay (until) ... (p. 48) 
"Na play I duh play" (p. 48) 

One day me bin say Bowman long pass dis tick ... (p. 48) 
One net big rain fa' down (p. 55) 
Dat make tay (until) today . .. . (p. 63) 
... en I mus' kare dis fiah go home (p. 64) 
Dey all tow, dey duh sleep (p. 66) 
... all run go (p. 70) 

. . . 'tan* up nah de do'-(door) mout' (p. 70) 
Make I tie um 'roun yo' mout', make I hole um, so w'en I duh 

shake, shake, make I no fa' down (p. 72) 
I done bring Trorkey come (p. 75) 
Dem beef all come, dey try, dey no able (p. 83) 
... he no bin 'tan' lek today ... (p. 93) 
Hungri tern (famine) done ketch dis Africa (p. 117) 
De two beef no' know say ... (p. 120) 
... he drag dem nah sho' ... (p. 121) 

. . . make we come go; ef no so, ef he meet yo', he go kill yo' (p. 185) 
Spider he smart man fo' true, true (p. 213) 
W'en 'fraid ketch Lepped . . . (p. 225) 
... I go mi one (alone) (p. 234) 
Make yo' kare mi nah yard (p. 247) 
De grabe 'plit mo' (p. 272) 
Story done (p. 278) 
He see white clo'es, no mo' (p. 294) 
Well, de debbie pull one sing (p. 182) 

Among the Ashanti of the Gold Coast, an interpreter of unusual 
qualifications made it possible to push the investigation a step fur- 
ther, by assessing the literal meaning of African idiomatic expres- 
sions. As always, working from the Guiana dialect, lists of expres- 
sions which took especially striking form were analyzed : 

The following list gives some of the resultant Twi idioms, with their 
literal meaning expressed in English words: 

Bring fd bra** (take come) 

Take (away) fd h' (take go) 

Run away djuane h' (run go) 

I am hungry Mm di mi (hunger eat me) or ohm okii mt 

(hunger kill me) 
Give birth to a child wa nyd afofrd (he catch child) 



288 



THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 



Let us go 

I traveled for a long time 

I went to look for some- 
thing, I did not find it 
Early in the morning 
All of you 
She is very nice 
Do it at once 
That is why 
He told me 

A thing done at a time 
Little by little 
Bigger 

Edge of the road 
I am angry 
In the road 
He came to a stream 
Add one to it 
After this 
To calm a person 

"Meat" (for animal) 
Wild animal 
He is very foolish 
He is very strong 
The tale is very nice 
I am afraid 

He walked a short way 
Do you understand Eng- 
lish? 
He brought it to me to see 



ma ye wjkf (make we go) 

m(i) anan ti, anan ti y anan ti (I walked, walked, 

walked) 
mi h j hwi hwel m(i) qn h$n (I go look for find, 

I no see) 

anopa tiilti (morning early) 
md nyfna (you all) 

no hgn yefe' dodo' (he skin is nice much-much) 
ye no preko (do it time one) 
asem mitt (case head) 
okdji tchire mis? (he tell show me say) 
nkoro (n)koro (one, one) 
kakra kakra (small, small) 
esiin suie no' (big pass it) 
kwdn hi (road-skin) 
m(i) aki'ima' e/ntru' (my heart burns) 
mi uoj kwanemu (I am road inside) 
oba tiiwoesiiyo bi (he-came met river some) 
Ja kord toso (take one put top) 
yci echiri (this back) 
djodjo n(a) akoma mdno (cool he heart give 

him) 

o kokum ndm (he go kill meat) 
wirem nam (forest meat, = bush meat) 
rye kwasi d dodo' (he is fool too much) 
eye detj dodo' (it is strong too much) 
ascm' no ye de dodo' (story it is sweet too much) 
surd kd me (fear touched me) or surd chire m$ 

(fear catch me) 

onantt kakrd (he walked small) 
wo tfbnffr (you hear English) 

ifd brd mi hwt (he took come me see) 



The above list shows that many of the idioms peculiar to Paramaribo, 
Jamaica, Andros Islands, and the Sea Islands are literal translations of Twi. 
The presence of similar idiomatic expressions in Yoruba, Fp, Ewe and Hausa 
speech, and as reported by Cronise and Ward and others, leads to the 
further hypothesis that these idioms are basic to many, if not all, of the 
West African tongues. 

The discussion of grammatical constructions of non-English char- 
acter gave results equally enlightening : 

Parsons 63 makes some cogent observations on prevalent grammatical 
forms, and offers as a possibility that these may derive from African usage. 
Available grammars of West African languages throw considerable light on 
these perplexing constructions, and, though it is not possible here to give a 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 289 

complete discussion, a few examples will make the point that in this, as in 
the instance of many of the idioms whose literal translation we have given, 
the peculiarities of Negro speech are primarily due to the fact that the 
Negroes have been using words from European languages to render literally 
the underlying morphological patterns of West African tongues. 

Let us consider first the tendency of New World Negroes to use the verb 
"to give" for the English preposition "for." In Ewe 64 na, "to give" is used 
in just this manner, and we read that ". . . what one does to another is 
done for him and is, as it were, given to him, e.g., . . . he said a word (and) 
gave (if) to the person, i.e., he said a word to the person; he bought a horse 
(and) gave (it) to me, i.e., he bought me a horse." 

In rendering Ashanti tales, it is explained that ma, which is translated 
by the preposition "for" is really the verb "to give." 65 

In Ga, ha, "to give," is used as we would use "for" in English, when em- 
ployed with persons. 66 The Fante-Akan language utilizes the verb ma, "to 
give" as an equivalent of the English preposition "for"; 67 while, turning 
to a Yoruba text we find a phrase which, literally translated, reads "//$ 
prennent vont donnent au roi," and has the meaning of "They bring to the 
king." 68 

In the matter of gender, we find in grammars of West African languages 
the explanation of the seeming lack of differentiation of sex in the use of 
pronouns. We have noted how "he" and "she" are interchanged in West 
Africa and Suriname; how, in the West Indies and the Gullah Islands, 
"he" is employed to indicate both a man and a woman. Ewe, we find, 
"has no grammatical gender." 69 Do the Ewe, then, fail to distinguish per- 
sons who differ in sex? Not at all; they must, however, employ nouns, such 
as "man," "woman," "youth," "maiden," "father," "mother," or they must 
add either -su, "male," or -no, "female," to a given word as a suffix. Yet 
this latter method is that of New World Negro English, as, for example, 
when the Suriname Negro speaks of a man-pikin, a boy, as against an 
umq-pikin, a girl. In Ga, 70 as in Ewe, gender is designated by the prefixing 
or suffixing of an element, in this case, yo for a woman and nu for a man, 
though there are a few differentiating words such as "husband," "wife," 
"father," "mother," and the like. Similarly, in the related Fante-Akan 
speech, 71 it is by affixing particles or utilizing different words, that the dif- 
ference of sex is indicated. Of Yoruba we read that "The Yoruba language 
being non-inflective, genders cannot be distinguished by their terminal syl- 
lables, but by prefixing the words ako, male, and abo, female, to the common 
term; . . ," 72 

Perhaps no other element in taki-taki proved more difficult to translate 
than those expressions containing what Westermann terms "substantives 
of place." While taki-taki does not have all the connotations given for each 
of the words listed in his Ewe grammar, 73 ail the words he cites in this 
connection have their taki-taki equivalents, and many of these equivalents 
have retained several of their meanings in Ewe. Thus, in taki-taki, as in 
Ewe. na mindri (the Ewe dome}, not onlv means "a nlare between." hut 



290 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

is also used with the meaning of "between," "among," "in the midst of." 
Tapu, (Ewe dzi\ means not only "top" but also "the sky," and "over," 
"on," and "above." Inisei in Suriname (Ewe me), as in Africa, carries the 
significance- not only of "inside" but also of "the context of a word of 
speech." Na baka is difficult to translate into English until its equivalence 
to the Ewe megbe is perceived, when it becomes clear that it not only signi- 
fies "the back" but also "behind" and "after" and "again. " A last example 
(though this does not exhaust the list) shows the derivation of the numerous 
curious uses of the taki-taki word hede, "head." The Ewe equivalent, /a, 
besides its initial significance, means "point" or "peak," "on account of," 
"because," "therefore," and "for that reason," the last being the exact 
translation of the Suriname word in such a phrase as fd dati ede. For G% 
we find similar constructions reported. 74 Thus, the G$ people say, "he looked 
at his face" for "he looked in front of him"; "my garden is at the house's 
back" for "my garden is behind the house"; "he went to their middle" for 
"he went among them"; "walk my back" for "walk behind me." In Fante 
the same construction is found. 75 

If one wishes to know the grammatical bases of such usage as the reflexive 
pronoun, denfom den s\efi\ the order in which those in a compound subject 
involving the speaker are named, mi nqyga yu; the cohortive form, which 
expresses an invitation, as meV wi go for "let us go"; forms like mi de go, 
mi ben go\ the use of a separate term (like the taki-taki kaba) to denote 
completed action; the use of the phrase a taki, "to say," to introduce objec- 
tive phrases; the use of the term "more" ("surpass") 76 to make the com- 
parative form of the adjective, he will find all these discussed in grammars 
of West African languages. Let us here only indicate, from Westermann, 
some other rules of Ewe that, as for other West African tongues, still are 
operative for taki-taki. When one says, "he is four years old," 77 he says "he 
has received four years" the Suriname a kisi fo yari kaba] if one wishes 
to say "I know something," he says "I have come to know something," 78 
taki-taki mi de kom sabi wq sani. In Ewe, for "tell the Governor," one 
says, "say it give Governor say," our taki gi Gramq taki?* the Ewe use 
of the double verb occurs also in taki-taki as krgipi a knipi* 

On the basis of this analysis, the following statement was drawn : 

It may be well to restate the conclusions arrived at on the basis of com- 
paring taki-taki with Negro English in the New World, pidgin English in 
Africa, Ashanti idioms, and West African grammatical forms as illustrated 
in Yoruba, Ewe, F:?, G%, Twi, Mende, Hausa and other West African 
languages. 

1. Parallels to taki-taki were found in Jamaican speech, in the Bahamas, 
and in the Sea Islands of the United States. 

2. Similar parallels were also found in pidgin English as spoken in Nigeria 
and on the Gold Coast, as well as in such specimens of Negro-French spoken 
by natives with no schooling as were available. 

3. Phonetic peculiarities which Negro speech exhibits in the New World 



LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS 291 

were met with in African pidgin, and it was possible to trace them to 
African speech. 81 

Therefore, it must be concluded that not only taki-taki, but the speech of 
the other regions of the New World we have cited, and the West African 
pidgin dialects, are all languages exhibiting, in varying degrees of intensity, 
similar African constructions and idioms, though employing vocabulary 
that is predominantly European. 

Such matters as the fate in the New World of the tonal elements 
in West African speech, where, as has been indicated, tone has 
semantic as well as phonemic significance, remain to be studied. It 
is a most difficult problem requiring a long-term and highly technical 
analysis of Negro speech in various parts of the New World. That 
the peculiarly "musical" quality of Negro-English as spoken in the 
United States and the same trait found in the speech of white South- 
erners 82 represent a non functioning survival of this characteristic of 
African languages is entirely possible, especially since this same 
"musical" quality is prominent in Negro-English and Negro-French 
everywhere. One Negro who was faced with the practical task of 
distinguishing the registers in the tonal system of a West African 
language has stated 83 that he was greatly aided in this task by ref- 
erence to the cadences of Negro speech he knew from Harlem. When 
he was confronted with the need of mastering the especially difficult 
combinations of tones in Ifek, the registers of such a phrase as 
"Yeah, boss," ( "^ ) greatly simplified his task. That such an ex- 
perience may offer a methodological hint for future research on the 
survival of tone in the speech of New World Negroes, and espe- 
cially those of the United States, is not out of the range of possibility. 

The materials adduced above as regards vocabulary, phonetics, 
grammar, and idiom in Negro speech in this country are thus to 
be regarded as a mere beginning of a systematic research program. 
They are, however, more desirable and acceptable, if only from the 
point of view of method, than are the many arbitrary statements 
concerning Negro speech based on no knowledge of even the pub- 
lished materials on African languages. That it is necessary to men- 
tion this point again shows the state of methodological darkness in 
which the scholarship of Negro studies has groped its way. If only 
because of this deficiency, the burden of proof rests on those who 
claim the descent of Negro speech from Elizabethan English 84 or 
from Norman French. 85 In so far as the myth of the Negro past 
has been accepted in the study of this aspect of culture, the stamina 
of the African heritage goes unrealized here as elsewhere. 



Chapter IX 
CONCLUSIONS 



The conclusions to be drawn from the discussion in the preceding 
chapters may be summarized on broad lines as follows : 

1. The myth of the Negro past has been outlined and the unfor- 
tunate consequences for scholarship made apparent where scholars 
rely on assumption rather than fact. It has been seen how student 
after student has been content to repeat propositions concerning 
Negro endowment and the Negro past without critical analysis. 
Those who have taken the African background into account at all 
have failed in the methodological task of assessing the literature to 
ascertain whether earlier statements retain validity in the light of 
modern findings. Where concern has been to explain the divergence 
of Negro institutions from those of the white majority, it has been 
uncritically held that nothing of Africa could have remained as a 
functioning reality in the life of Negroes in this country. This his- 
torical blind spot has resulted in a geographical provincialism, so 
that students have never pressed into effective research, such recog- 
nition as they have shown of the importance of comparative studies 
among Negroes living in other parts of the New World. 

2. The acceptance of this mythology has been shown to be as 
serious for the practical man as for scholars. Its function as a jus- 
tification for prejudice has operated to aggravate the situation of 
the Negro, providing deep-lying sanctions for surface irritations 
that have their roots in convictions regarding the quality of African 
culture. The existence of a popular belief in the African character 
of certain phases of Negro custom has been seen not to vitiate the 
conceptual reality of the mythological system, since it is the aspects 
of Negro life customarily deemed least desirable that are held to 
be African, and are thus regarded as vestiges of a "savage" past. 
That the existence of survivals has been denied rather than inves- 
tigated shows that the implications of this point of view have not 
been missed by men of good will, and this fact but emphasizes the 
failure of scholars to face the question of Africanisms and apply to 
their study all the resources of their disciplines. 

292 



CONCLUSIONS 293 

If the component parts of the system are taken one by one, the 
specific findings applicable to each may be reviewed in these terms : 

/. Negroes are naturally of childlike character, and adjust easily 
to the most unsatisfactory social situations, which they accept readily 
and even happily, in contrast to the American Indians, who preferred 
extinction to slavery. 

The sophistication of the Negroes in Africa and the New World 
as exemplified by the intricacy of aboriginal world view expressed 
in African religious beliefs, regard for reality shown by a refusal 
to interpret life in terms of a dichotomy between good and evil, and 
the pliability with which they adapt to everyday situations of all 
sorts, indicates the invalidity of any ascription of childlike qualities 
to the Negro. This means that such maladjustments to the Ameri- 
can scene as characterize Negro life are to be ascribed largely to 
the social and economic handicaps these folk have suffered, rather 
than to any inability to cope with the realities of life. This also means 
that the customary interpretation of pliancy in terms of subservience 
ignores pre-American traditions which, because of their consistency 
in all the New World as well as in Africa itself, cannot be ex- 
clusively explained in terms of adjustment to slavery and post-slavery 
conditions. 

That Negroes refused to accept slavery, and carried on unremit- 
ting protest both individually and in groups, has been amply proved 
by preliminary studies of Negro discontent. In its personal mani- 
festations this ranged from malingering to suicide, while Negro 
slavery was also accompanied by revolts, so endemic that fear of 
slave uprisings was an outstanding phase of white thought of the 
period, giving evidence that the Negroes could implement resentment 
with action. The real reasons for the success of the Negro in adapt- 
ing to his New World life, a point which is brought into high relief 
in the mythology by the stress laid on the corresponding failure of 
the Indian to adjust to slavery, are found in two causes. The Negro 
made a satisfactory slave because he came from a social order whose 
economy was sufficiently complex to permit him to meet the dis- 
ciplinary demands of the plantation system without any great viola- 
tion of earlier habit patterns, something not true of the Indian. In 
the second place, the Negro's powers of physical resistance were 
such that various diseases which killed off the Indians in large num- 
bers subsequent to contact with the whites, such as measles, did not 
affect the Negroes. 

2. Only the poorer stock of Africa was enslaved, the more intel- 



294 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

ligent members of the African communities raided having been 
clever enough to elude the slavers' nets. 

It has been shown that the history of slavery gives little evidence 
of any kind of selectivity in the capture of Negroes. The two most 
important methods of procuring slaves, kidnaping and capture in 
war, were clearly not such as to handicap those of lesser intelligence 
or to give those of higher ability any advantage in escaping the 
slavers. This is especially true because kidnapers were more likely 
to make off with young Negroes than others, while the fact that 
in West African warfare there was no category of noncombatant 
operated effectively against enslavement of selected elements in a 
particular population. African tradition of the slave trade, though 
heretofore given but slight attention, indicates rather that certain 
categories in the upper classes of African society, especially the 
priests and rulers, were in some instances particularly liable to be 
sold to the New World. That this tradition has validity is indicated 
in the first place by the fact that there was no lack of leaders in 
the New World who could organize successful revolts and success- 
fully administer the communities subsequently established. It is 
likewise supported by the need to posit the presence of many priests 
and other specialists in manipulating the supernatural, if the further 
fact that recognizable Africanisms in the New World are more 
numerous in the field of religion than in any other aspect of culture 
is to be accounted for. There is, in fact, substantiating historical 
evidence in the firsthand accounts of New World slavery that these 
upper classes were represented among the slaves, where descriptions 
are given of the deference paid by some slaves to others who, for 
them, represented their rulers in Africa. 

5. Since the Negroes were brought from all parts of the African 
continent, spoke diverse languages, represented greatly differing 
bodies of custom, and, as a matter of policy, were distributed in 
the New World so as to lose tribal identity, no least common de- 
nominator of understanding or behavior could have possibly been 
worked out by them. 

No element in this system has been more completely accepted 
than the assumptions that the Negroes of this country were derived 
from the most diverse ethnic stocks and linguistic units over all of 
Africa ; that, as it is phrased, the slaves were brought to the trading 
centers along the African coast after a "thousand-mile long" trek 
across the wastes of the continent. The facts have been seen to in- 
dicate that this is far from the truth. In the light of population 



CONCLUSIONS 295 

distribution in Africa itself, with respect to the location of Euro- 
pean slaving factories, as evidenced in the documents of the period, 
and as proved by the survivals of African personal names, place 
names, names of deities, and specific traits of culture where these 
survived in the New World, the region where slaving took its great- 
est toll was a relatively small part of Africa; while, of these slaves, 
the major portion was drawn from certain fairly restricted areas 
lying in the coastal belt of West Africa and the Congo. 

When the proposition concerning the diversity of tongues and 
differences in customs among the tribes providing slaves is analyzed, 
a result similarly different from the accepted version is found. In 
classifying African languages, linguists are seen to designate the 
dialects of most peoples of the slaving area as Sudanese, which 
means that, whatever the differences in vocabulary that rendered 
these modes of speech mutually unintelligible, they had substantial 
elements of similarity in basic structure. The Bantu tongues, spoken 
in the Congo, are generally recognized as having a high degree of 
homogeneity ; when these are compared with the Sudanese languages 
in contrast to Indo-European tongues, many resemblances between 
the two types appear. 

As in language, so with culture in general. The civilizations of the 
forested coastal belt of West Africa and the Congo are to be re- 
garded as forming one of the major cultural areas of the continent; 
which means that they resemble each other to a far greater degree 
than is recognized if local differences alone are taken into account. 
Again, in contrast to European custom, the resemblance of these 
coastal cultures to those of Senegal and the prairie belt lying north 
of the forested region of the west coast, or in the interior of the 
Congo, is appreciable. In many respects the entire area of slaving 
may thus be thought of as presenting a far greater degree of unity 
than is ordinarily conceived in the face of New World contact, in 
the United States as elsewhere, with the language and customs of the 
slave-owners. 

A reexamination of the facts concerning separation in the New 
World of slaves coming from the same tribe, in the light of modern 
knowledge of African culture distributions, shows -that this was no 
barrier to the retention of African customs in generalized form, or 
of their underlying sanctions and values. At most, it seems to have 
operated to blur the edges of distinctions sharply made in the home- 
land; that is, to stress and thus cause the retention of linguistic and 
cultural least common denominators such as are called on when 
classifying languages or grouping civilizations. An adequate basis 



296 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

for communication came into existence when the slaves learned 
words from the language of their masters and poured these into 
African speech molds, thus cheating linguistic forms that in struc- 
ture not only resemble the aboriginal tongues, but are also similar 
to one another no matter what the European vehicle English or 
French or Spanish or Portuguese. The same device is seen to have 
occurred in culture; which would mean that in the light of findings 
under the ethno-historical method employed in this analysis, the rea- 
sons most often advanced to account for the suppression of Afri- 
canisms in the New World turn out to be factors that encouraged 
their retention. 

4. Even granting enough Negroes of a given tribe had the op- 
portunity to live together, and that they had the will and ability to 
continue their customary modes of behavior, the cultures of Africa 
were so savage and relatively so low in the scale of human civilisa- 
tion that the apparent superiority of European custom as observed 
in the behavior of their masters would have caused and actually did 
cause them to give up such aboriginal traditions as they may other- 
wise have desired to preserve. 

This has been seen to be poor ethnology and poorer psychology. 
The evaluation of one culture in terms of another has been given 
over by modern ethnologists for many years, since it has become 
increasingly apparent that, lacking adequate criteria, customs can 
only be subjectively compared in terms of better or worse, higher 
or lower. This means that scholars, drawing comparisons of this na- 
ture, have merely reacted to their own conditioning, which has given 
them a predisposition to bring in verdicts which favor their own 
customs and to place differing cultures on levels that are deemed less 
advanced. 

This recognized, it follows that many of the terms applied to 
African societies, such as "simple" OP "naive," are to be discarded. 
Examining the cultures of West Africa, Senegal, and the Congo it 
has been shown how they manifest a degree of complexity that on 
this ground alone places them high in the ranks of the nonliterate, 
nonmachine societies over the world, and makes them comparable in 
many respects to Europe of the Middle Ages. Some of the traits of 
these West African civilizations are: well-organized, intricate eco- 
nomic systems, which in many areas include the use of money to 
facilitate exchange ; political systems which, though founded on the 
local group, were adequate to administer widespread kingdoms; a 
complex social organization, regularized through devices such as the 



CONCLUSIONS 297 

sanctions of the ancestral cult in its kinship aspects, and including 
societies of all kinds, secret and nonsecret, performing functions of 
insurance, police, and other character ; involved systems of religious 
belief and practice, which comprise philosophically conceived world 
views and sustained cult rituals ; and a high development of the arts, 
whether in folk literature, the graphic and plastic forms, or music 
and the dance. 

Coming, then, from relatively complex and sophisticated cultures, 
the Negroes, it has been seen, met the acculturative situation in its 
various manifestations over the New World far differently than is 
customarily envisaged. Instead of representing isolated cultures, their 
endowments, however different in detail, possessed least common 
denominators that permitted a consensus of experience to be drawn 
on in fashioning new, though still Africanlike, customs. The pres- 
ence of members of native ruling houses and priests and diviners 
among the slaves made it possible for the cultural lifeblood to coagu- 
late through reinterpretation instead of ebbing away into the pool 
of European culture. In some parts of the New World full-blown 
African civilizations resulted from successful revolts which permit- 
ted the establishment of independent or quasi-independent Negro 
communities. Elsewhere the process of acculturation resulted in 
varied degrees of reinterpretation of African custom in the light of 
the new situations. 

The force of aboriginal sanctions has been seen to be such, how- 
ever, that even where reinterpretation was most thoroughgoing, as 
in the United States, African points of view and African funda- 
mental drives were not entirely lost. Slaves in different parts of the 
New World were exposed to European custom in differing degrees 
of intensity. In the same region, slaves assigned to various types of 
work had different kinds of contact with their masters. Yet even 
where acculturation along specialized lines was greatest, as in the 
case of mechanics and those trained in other crafts, acceptance of 
European modes of life by no means always followed; in Brazil, 
for example, this is seen to have resulted in the use of the unsuper- 
vised leisure of such specialists to preserve and further the reten- 
tion of African traditions. 

A factor of importance, consistently unrecognized in evaluating 
the acculturative processes operative among the Negroes, has been 
found to be the African traditional attitude toward what is new, 
what is foreign. Aboriginally manifested most strongly in the field 
of religion, where both conquered and conquerors often took over 
the gods of their opponents, it has operated to endow the African 



298 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

with a psychological resilience in facing new situations that has 
proved of good stead in his New World experience. To term an old 
deity by a new name is but one manifestation of a device which, 
in the field of social organization, has made for disregard of Euro- 
pean sanctions underlying family structure while accepting European 
terminology relating to the family; for the adaptation of African 
patterns of mutual self-help in matters pertaining to death to out- 
ward Euro- American conventions of lodges and funerals; for the 
reworking of song and dance in accordance with the demands of 
the new setting. In instance after instance that has been cited from 
the literature bearing on the highly acculturated Negroes of the 
United States, it has been demonstrated how a proper assessing of 
these vestigial forms of African practice has led to the recognition 
of slightly modified African sanctions supporting forms of a given 
institution that are almost entirely European. This principle of dis- 
regard for outer form while retaining inner values, characteristic of 
Africans everywhere, is thus revealed as the- most important single 
factor making for an understanding of the acculturative situation. 
That it reveals intellectual sophistication rather than naivete negates 
the proposition in the mythology which holds that the force of su- 
perior European custom was so overwhelming that nothing of 
Africa could stand in the face of it. 

5. The Negro is thus a man without a past. 

The implications of this final culminating belief concerning the 
Negro have been seen to be of the greatest importance in shaping 
attitudes toward Negroes on the part of whites and attitudes of 
Negroes toward themselves. It has been indicated how, in the pat- 
terned values of this country, the past characteristically operates as 
a psychological support for the present; that it is held as explana- 
tion and justification of any cultural peculiarities a group may mani- 
fest. Where the ancestral endowment is a matter for pride, these 
special cultural traits are regarded with pride; where the past is 
"savage" and to be forgotten, specialized aspects of custom require 
apology where they cannot be concealed. To recognize that the past 
of the Negro in slavery and the physical differences that mark off 
this group from the American majority have aggravated attitudes 
toward the presumed savagery of their pre-American past, is merely 
to favor an explanation in terms of multiple causation rather than 
to employ the simplistic approach of conventionally minded students. 
To neglect any of these elements in the situation must distort per- 
spective which means that it is as necessary to realize the force of 



CONCLUSIONS 299 

African tradition making for the special cultural traits that mark 
off the Negro as it is to bear in mind the slave past or high pig- 
mentation. To rephrase the matter, it is seen that the African past 
is no more to be thought of as having been thrown away by those 
of African descent than it is to assume that the traits that distin- 
guish Italians or Germans or Old Americans or Jews or Irish or 
Mexicans or Swedes from the entire population of which they form 
a part can be understood in their present forms without a reference 
to a preceding cultural heritage. 

In the evaluative processes of this country, then, the past counts 
more heavily than is realized, from which it follows that the extent 
to which the past of a people is regarded as praiseworthy, their 
own self-esteem will be high and the opinion of others will be favor- 
able. The tendency to deny the Negro any such past as all other 
minority groups of this country own to is thus unfortunate, espe- 
cially since the truth concerning the nature of Negro aboriginal en- 
dowment, and its tenaciousness in contact with other cultures, is 
not such as to make it suffer under comparison. The recognition by 
the majority of the population of certain values in Negro song and 
Negro dance has already heightened Negro self -pride and has af- 
fected white attitudes toward the Negro. For the Negro to be sim- 
ilarly proud of his entire past as manifested in his present customs 
should carry further these tendencies. 

It has been seen that for the contribution to scientific knowledge 
to be gained from the study of Negro cultures, it is equally impor- 
tant to consider the operational significance of the Negro past. Only 
in this way can the laboratory that history has set up for the scientist 
be best utilized. Comparative studies, which recognize the historical 
affiliations of Negroes in West Africa and all the New World, 
must, especially for students in the United States, supplement the 
provincialism which refuses to look beyond the borders of a single 
country. The principle of differing degrees of acculturation to be 
discerned in the behavior of Negroes in various parts of the New 
World, and in various socio-economic strata of Negro populations 
everywhere, can thus be called on to implement the analysis of 
changes that have taken place during the historic adventure of the 
Negro people. Conventions which defy explanation except in terms 
of devious manipulation of logical possibilities become straightened 
into plain historical sequences when this principle is used, so that as 
concerns both scientific and practical considerations, it is possible to 
reason with greater cogency and act with greater assurance. 



References 
CHAPTER I 



1 "The Conflict and Fusion of Cultures with Special Reference to the Negro," 
Journal of Negro History, 4:116, 1919. 

2 The Negro Family in the United States, Chicago, 1939, pp. 21 f. 

* "The Negro Family in the United States" (book review), American Journal 
of Sociology, 14:799, 1940. 

4 Shadow of the Plantation, Chicago, 1934, p. 3. 

5 Brown America, the Story of a New Race, New York, 1931, p. II. 

6 Ibid., pp. 10 f. 

7 The Relation of the Alabama- Georgia Dialect to the Provincial Dialects of 
Great Britain, Baton Rouge, 1935, p. 64. 

8 Folk Culture on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, Chapel Hill, N. C, 1930, 
p. 6. 

9 The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South, Chicago, 1937, passim. 

10 Thus, in a letter to an inquirer after African survivals in the behavior of 
Negroes of the United States (Mr. Joseph Ralph of Long Beach, Calif.), written 
early in 1925, the following statement was made : 

As to the preservation of African cultural elements, I do not believe that such 
are to be observed in any of the modes of behavior of the American Negro. 

In writing of the Negroes of Harlem, New York City, at about this time ("The 
Negro's Americanism," in Alain Locke (ed.) The New Negro, New York, 1925, 
PP- 359 f-), the same position was emphasized: 

What there is today in Harlem distinct from the white culture that surrounds 
it is, as far as I am able to see, merely a remnant from the peasant days in the 
South. Of the African culture, not a trace. Even the spirituals are an expression of 
the emotion of the Negro playing through the typical religious patterns of white 
America. ... As we turn to Harlem we see ... it represents, as do all American 
communities which it resembles, a case of complete acculturation. And so, I return 
again to my reaction on first seeing this center of Negro activity, as the complete 
description of it : "Why, it's the same pattern, only a different shade 1" 

Two years later the identical point of view was stressed ("Acculturation and the 
American Negro," Southwestern Political and Social Science Quarterly, 8:216, 
224, 1927) : 

Perhaps the best instance which may be given of this fashion in which one people 
may accept and validate for themselves the culture of another folk is contained in 
the Negroes of this country, particularly in the Negroes who have migrated to 
the northern cities and settled there in large communities . . . The African Negro 
may be of the same racial stock as some of his American brothers. But culturally, 
they are as widely separated as the Bostonian whose ancestry came to this country 
in the Mayflower, and the descendant of the King of Ashanti who lives today in 
West Africa. 

300 



REFERENCES 301 

In this latter paper, the relationship between physical type and ability to handle 
one culture as against another was primarily the subject under discussion, and 
there is no reason to assume that the conclusion reached in the argument, that such 
a relationship cannot be shown, is invalid. Yet the sentences quoted, when con- 
sidered solely in the light of the principal concern of our discussion here, show 
that Negro behavior was believed to be "the same pattern, only a different shade" 
from that of the general white population in every aspect of activity. 

11 The methodological challenge this research presents, one which has by no 
means been adequately met, is in itself of real moment. For since no adequate 
attack on it is limited to any one discipline, or to any single geographic region, 
it demands a constant attention to techniques of utilizing cross-disciplinary resources 
as the analyses move ever more widely over the areas and the circumstances of 
Negro-white contact. By virtue of this fact, the problem in its largest aspects may 
be thought of as a significant lead toward achieving an integration in the sciences 
such as is becoming increasingly recognized as the next essential step in the devel- 
opment of knowledge. 

12 American Negro Slavery, New York, 1918, p. 46. 

18 R. Redfield, R. Linton, and M, J. Herskovits, "Memorandum for the Study 
of Acculturation," American Anthropologist, 38:149-152, 1936, passim. See also 
M. J. Herskovits, "The Significance of the Study of Acculturation for Anthropol- 
ogy," American Anthropologist, 39:250-264, 1937, passim. 

14 M. J. Herskovits, Acculturation, the Study of Culture Contact, New York, 1938. 
See also R. Linton, Acculturation in Seven American Indian Tribes, New York, 
1940. 

15 The Negro in the Neiv World, London, 1910. 

18 Warning from the West Indies, London, 1938 (rev. ed.). 

17 "The West Indies as a Sociological Laboratory," American Journal of Sod- 
ology, 29:290-291, 304, 1923-1924. 

18 "The Conflict and Fusion of Cultures with Special Reference to the Negro," 
Journal of Negro History, 4:115, 1919. 

19 "Magic, Mentality, and City Life," in: R. E. Park, The City, Chicago, 1925. 

20 The American Race Problem, A Study of the Negro, New York, 1938 (2nd 
ed.), PP. 15-16. 

21 Weatherly, op. cit., p. 292. 

22 "The Conflict and Fusion of Cultures with Special Reference to the Negro," 
Journal of Negro History, 4:129, 1919. 

28 M. J. Herskovits, "The Negro in the New World: The Statement of a Prob- 
lem," American Anthropologist, 32:145-156, 1930. 

24 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Rebel Destiny, Among the Bush Negroes of 
Dutch Guiana, New York, 1934, pp. viii-xii; Suriname Folk-Lore, New York, 
1937, PP- I-I35- 

25 M. J. Herskovits, "The Negro in the New World . . . ," American Anthro- 
pologist, 32:1491., 1930. 

26 Cf., for example, Arthur Ramos, As Culturas Negras no Novo Mundo, Rio de 
Janeiro, 1937 ; M. J. Herskovits, "The Social History of the Negro," in : C. Murchi- 
son, Handbook of Social Psychology, Worcester, Mass., 1935. 

27 E.g., the numerous works of Arthur Ramos, among which may be cited O 
Negro Brasileiro, Rio de Janeiro, 1934, Folk-Lore Negro do Brasil, Rio de 
Janeiro, 1935, and The Negro in Brazil, trans. Richard Pattee. Washington, D. C., 
1939; of Gilberto Freyre, especially his Casa-Grande & Sensala, Rio de Janeiro, 
ist ed., 1934, 2nd ed., 1936, 3rd ed., 1938; of Edison Carneiro, Religioes Negras, 
Rio de Janeiro, 1936; of Jacques Raimundo, Elemento Afro-Negro na Lingua 
Portuguesa, Rio de Janeiro, 1933, and O Negro Brasileiro, Rio de Janeiro, 1936; 
of Joao Dornas Filho, A Escravidao no Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, 1939; and the 
proceedings of the two Afro-Brazilian Congresses, Estudos Afro-Brasileiros, Rio 



302 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

de Janeiro, 1935, Novos Estudos Afro-Brasileiros, Rio de Janeiro, 1937, and O 
Negro no Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, 1940; likewise Riidiger Bilden, "Brazil, Labora- 
tory of Civilization," The Nation, 128:71-74, 1929, and Donald Pierson, "The 
Negro in Bahia, Brazil," American Sociological Review, 4*-524-533, 1939- 

28 Dr. Price-Mars, Ainsi Parla I'Oncle, Port-au-Prince, 1928; J. C. Dorsainvil, 
Vodun et Nevrose, Port-au-Prince, 1931 ; M. J. Herskovits, Life in a Haitian 
Valley, New York, 1937 ; Harold Courlander, Haiti Singing, Chapel Hill, 1940. 

29 M. J. Herskovits, "African Gods and Catholic Saints in New World Negro 
Belief," American Anthropologist, 39:635-643, 1937. 

80 A. Ramos, O Folk-Lore Negro do Brasil; Fernando Ortiz, Los Negros 
Brujos, Madrid, 1917. 

81 Martha Beckwith, Black Roadways, a Study in Jamaican Folk Life, Chapel 
Hill, 1929. 

82 E.g., R. S. Rattray, Ashanti, Oxford, 1923; Religion and Art in Ashanti, Ox- 
ford, 1927; Ashanti Law and Constitution, Oxford, 1929; Akan-Ashanti Folk Tales, 
Oxford, 1930; H. Labouret, "Les Tribus du Rameau Lobi," Tr. et Mem. de 
I'lnstitut d'Ethnologie, No. XV, Paris, 1931 ; M. J. Herskovits, Dahomey, New 
York, 1938; C. K. Meek, A Sudanese Kingdom, Oxford, 1931, and Law and Au- 
thority in a Nigerian Tribe, 1937; a d the volumes of the journal Africa. Unpub- 
lished results of field work done in West Africa under fellowship grants of the 
Social Science Research Council by W. R. Bascom (among the Yoruba, 1937- 
1938), Joseph Greenberg (among the Hausa and Maguzawa, 1938-1939), and by 
J. S. Harris (among the Ibo, 1939-1940), are also of considerable importance in 
filling out our knowledge of the range of West African custom. The wealth of 
materials available on Gold Coast tribes alone is strikingly indicated by the num- 
ber of titles listed in A. W. Cardinall, A Bibliography of the Gold Coast, Accra 
(Gold Coast), not dated, esp. Sections I-IX. 

83 Carried on by J. C. Trevor in 1936, under the auspices of Northwestern and 
Columbia universities, and A. A. Campbell, in 1939-1940, as Fellow of the Social 
Science Research Council. 

84 Carried on by M. J. and F. S. Herskovits in 1939, under a grant made by the 
Carnegie Corporation of New York. 

85 Indigenous Races of the Earth, Philadelphia, 1854 ; J. C. Nott, "The Diversity 
of the Human Race," Du Bow's Review, 10:113-132, 1851. 

86 "The Negro as a Contrast Conception," in : E. T. Thompson, Race Relations 
and the Race Problem, Durham, N. C., 1939, p. 174. 

87 Ibid., p. 171. The reference is to B. T. Washington, The Story of the Negro, 
New York, 1909, Vol. i, pp. 8f. ; the author adds, "A similar contrast was made 
by William McDougall in Is America Safe for Democracy? by juxtaposing a pic- 
ture of Lincoln and an African savage." 

88 Pp. Sf- 

89 Ibid., p. 407. The citation is from J. M. Mecklin, Democracy and Race Friction, 
a Study in Social Ethics, New York, 1914, p. 43. 

40 Dowd, op. cit., pp. 401 f. The first citation is from William H. Thomas, The 
American Negro: What He Was, What He Is, and What He May Become, New 
York, 1901, p. 134; the second is from H. W. Odum, Social and Mental Traits of 
the Negro, New York, 1910, p. 224. 

"Ibid., p. 39- 

42 Ibid., pp. 48 f. 

48 In Freedom's Birthplace, a Study of the Boston Negroes, New York, 1914, 
pp. 399 f- 

44 Caste and Class in a Southern Town, New Haven, 1937, p. 370. Citation taken 
from J. E. Lind, "Phylogenetic Elements in the Psychoses of the Negro," Psycho- 
analytic Review, 4 :3O3 f ., 1917. 

45 Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro, New York, 1896, p. 312. 



REFERENCES 303 

46 J. A. Tillinghast, The Negro in Africa and America, New York, 1902, 
pp. 29 f 

47 American Negro Slavery, pp. 4 and 8. The recommendation of Tillinghast's 
volume already cited as a "convenient sketch of the primitive African regime" and 
of Dowd's The Negro Races, New York, 1907, as "a fuller survey" causes one to 
speculate regarding the carry-over of historical method, in so far as the use of 
source materials is concerned, into a nonhistorical field. For both of these are what 
historians would call secondary or, better, tertiary sources 1 

48 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, Chapel Hill, 1926, pp. 8 fl., passim. Refer- 
ences are to Tillinghast, to early travelers such as Bosnian, and to later travelers 
such as Cruickshank or Miss Kingsley. 

49 Pp. 20 f . 

60 Ibid., p. 24. 

61 Ibid., p. 42. 

52 W. D. Wcathcrford and C. S. Johnson, Race Relations, New York, 1934, pp. 
27 f. ; the footnote reference appended to the passage is to Franz Boas, The Mind 
of Primitive Man, New York, 1910, Chap. I. 

53 See Chap. III. 

64 "Voodoo Worship and Child Sacrifice in Hayti," Journal of American Folk- 
Lore, i :i7f., 1888. 

65 After Freedom, New York, 1939, p. xi. 

66 The English Language in America, New York, 1925 (2 vols.), and "The 
English of the Negro," American Mercury, 2:iQofF., 1924. 

57 The English Language in America, Vol. I, pp. 6of. and 155, For an inde- 
pendent analysis of Krapp's position, see p. 278. 

68 'The English of the Nej?ro," p. 190. 

69 M. J. Herskovits, "The Ancestry of the American Negro," The American 
Scholar, 8:Q3f., 1938-1 939- 

60 Journal of Negro History, 22:367, 1937. 

61 E. F. Frazier, "Traditions and Patterns of Negro Family Life in the United 
States," in : E. B. Reuter, Race and Culture Contacts, New York, 1934, p. 194. 



CHAPTER II 



1 The History, Civil and Commercial of the British Colonies in the West /n- 
dies . . . London, 1801 (3rd ed.), Vol. II, pp. 126 f. 

2 Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa Performed Under the Direction and 
Patronage of the African Association in the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797, London, 
1799 (2nd ed.). 

8 Cf. M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, "A Footnote to the History of Negro Slav- 
ing," Opportunity, Ii:i78f., 1933. 

4 M. L. E. Moreau de St. Mery, Description . . . de la partie jrangaise de I'Isle 
Saint- Domingue, Philadelphia, 1797-98, Vol. I, pp. 237 f. 

5 Personal communication. 

6 David D. Wallace, The Life of Henry Laurens . . . , New York, 1915, pp. 
76 f. 

7 Phillips, American Negro Slavery, p. 43. Just how Phillips reached his con- 
clusion regarding the pygmoid character of these Negroes cannot be said, but his 
comment bespeaks slight knowledge of the geography and ethnic types of the 
region. 

8 Cf. Ramos, O F oik-Lore Negro do Brasil, passim. 

9 Personal communication. 

10 La Traite et VEsclavage des Congolais par les Europeens, Wettern, Belgium, 
1929, pp. 88 f. The reference to Grandpre, a slave trader whose experience cov- 
ered more than thirty years along the African coast is contained in a volume by 
this dealer entitled, Voyage d la Cote Occidentale d'Ajrique fait dans les annees 
1786 et 1787, Paris, 1801, Vol. I, pp. 223 f. For further discussion of the sources 
of Congo slaves by Rinchon see his Le Trafic Negrier, d'apres les livres de com- 
merce du capitaine gantois Pierre-Ignace-Levin Van Alstein, Brussels, 1938, pp. 
89 ff. 

11 J. Maes and O. Boon, "Les Peuplades du Congo Beige, Nom et Situation 
Geographique," Monographies Ideologiques, Publications de Bureau de Documenta- 
tion Ethnographique, Musee du Congo Beige, Tervueren, Belgium, 1935, Vol. I, 
ser. 2. 

12 M. J. Herskovits, "The Significance of West Africa for Negro Research," 
Journal of Negro History, 21:15-30, 1936. 

13 Ibid., pp. 21-22. 

14 American Negro Slavery, p. 31. 

15 Ibid., pp. 30 f. 

Ibid., p. 44; the data were gathered from the file of the Royal Gazette of 
Kingston, Jamaica, for 1803. 

17 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 3. The number of slaves imported is 
derived from the Negro Year Book for 1918-1919, p. 151. As so often in discussing 
Africa, Puckett took his statement of locale from Tillinghast, The Negro from 
Africa to America, in this case pp. 7 ff. 

18 Ibid., pp. 3 f . The extraordinary statement concerning the docile coastal tribes 
the warlike Ashanti and Dahomeans, for example! is taken from Tillinghast's 
excogitations, to be found on page 10 of his work. 

10 The American Race Problem, p. 133. 

304 



REFERENCES 305 

20 "The Conflict and Fusion of Cultures . . . /' Journal of Negro History, p. 117. 

21 Anthony Benezet, Some Historical Account of Guinea, Philadelphia, 1771. 

22 Race Relations, p. 124. Where these authors obtained the spellings of tribal 
names they use cannot be said, but the errors are striking Wydyas for Whydahs, 
Fulis for Fulas, etc. 

28 The Negro in the New World, pp. 82, 133, 275 f., 314. 

24 Ibid., p. 470. 

25 Nantes au XVIII 6 siecle; I'ere des Negriers (1714-1774), d'apres des docu- 
ments inedits, Paris, 1931. 

26 E.g., Du Bois, Black Folk, Then and Now, p. 143. 

27 Le Trafic Negrier . . . , pp. 304 f., based on preceding tables. 

28 Geschichte des Missionen der evangelischen Briider auf den Inseln S. Thomas, 
S. Croix und S. Jan, Barby, 1777, PP- 270 ff. 

29 Some of the relevant passages from Oldendorp are to be found in M. J. 
Herskovits, "On the Provenience of New World Negroes," Social Forces, 12 1250 f., 
1933- 

30 J. J. Hartsinck, Beschryving van Guiana, of de Wilde Kust in Suid- 
America . . . Amsterdam, 1770; Capt. J. G. Stedman, Narrative of a five years' 
expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Suriname, London, 1776. 

31 Moreau de St. Mery, op. cit. ; F. X. Charlevoix, Historic de I'lsle Espagnole 
ou de S. Domingue, Paris, 1730-1731 ; Pere J. B. Labat, Nouveau Voyage aux Isles 
d'Amerique, The Hague, 1724. 

82 Lewis, Journal of a West India Proprietor, London, 1834; Edwards, op. cit. 

83 Wm. Bosman, A Neiv and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea . . . 
(English trans.), London, 1721 (2nd ed.) ; Capt. Wm. Snelgrave, A New Account 
of Some Parts of Guinea, and the Slave-Trade . . . , London, 1734. 

84 Captain Canot; or Twenty Years of an African Slaver, New York, 1854. 

35 "The Slave Trade in South Carolina Before the Revolution/' American His- 
torical Review, 33 :8og-828, 1928 ; Documents Illustrative of the Slave Trade to 
America, Carnegie Institution Publication No. 409, Vols. I-IV, 1930-1935. 

30 American Negro Slavery, p. 113. 

87 Documents Illustrative of the Slave Trade to America, Vol. Ill, pp. 462 ff. 

**Ibid., p. 318. 

Ibid., pp. 43, 45. 

40 M. J. Herskovits, "The Significance of West Africa for Negro Research," 
loc. cit. ; computations from Donnan, op. cit., Vol. IV, pp. 175 ff., passim. 

41 J. D. Wheeler, A Practical Treatise on the Laiv of Slavery . . . , New York, 
1837 ; see also Jeffrey R. Brackett, The Negro in Maryland . . . , Baltimore, 1889. 

42 Op. cit., Vol. IV, pp. 278 ff., passim. The points of origin in this table are 
equated as closely as possible with those in the preceding one; most notable is 
the fact that only 1,168 slaves were brought in ships sailing from "Benin," "Bonny," 
"New Calabar," and "Old Calabar." 

43 Le Trafic Negrier . . . f pp. 247 ff. 

44 Personal communication. 

45 These figures are to be found in M. J. Herskovits, "The Significance of West 
Africa for Negro Research," loc. cit., p. 27. 

46 Stephen Fuller, Two Reports . . . on the Slave-Trade, London, 1798, pp. 
20 ff. 

47 Cf. also L. E. Bouet-Willaumez, Commerce et Traite des Noirs aux Cotes 
Occidentals d'AJrique, Paris, 1848; particularly Part II and maps. 

48 Rinchon, Le Trafic Negrier . . . , pp. 274 ff. ; the author's sources are indi- 
cated on pp. 243 ff. of his book. 

49 Herskovits, "The Significance of West Africa for Negro Research/ 1 loc. cit. f 
pp. 27 f . 



CHAPTER III 



I The Negro in Africa and America. 
* The Negro Races. 

8 The Negro from Africa to America. 

4 The American Race Problem, p. 199. 

5 See p. 302, n. 32. 

6 The Tshi-Speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast, London, 1887; The Ewe- 
Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, London, 1890; The Yoruba- 
S peaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, London, 1894. 

7 Bosman, A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea . . . ; John 
Barbot, "A Description of the Coast of North and South Guinea . . . /' Church- 
ill's Voyages, Vol. VI, London, 1732; Robert Norris, Memoirs of the Reign of 
Bossa Ahadee . . . , London, 1789; Abbe Proyart, Histoire de Loango, Kakonga 
et autres Royaumes d'Afrique . . . , Paris, 1776; Snelgrave, A New Account of 
Some Parts of Guinea, and the Slave Trade. . . , London, 1734. 

8 T. E. Bowdich, Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee, London, 1819 ; 
R. J. Burton, "A Mission to G^lele, King of Dahome . . . ," Memorial Edition 
of Burton's Works, Vols. Ill and IV, London, 1893. 

9 Mary A. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa, London, 1897 ; West African 
Studies, London, 1899; Robert H. Nassau, Fetichism in West Africa; Forty Years' 
Observation of Native Customs and Superstitions, New York, 1904. 

10 The Negro in Africa and America, p. 28. 

II Collected during field work in Eastern Nigeria, 1938-1939. 

12 "Land and Labour in a Cross River Village, Southern Nigeria," Geographical 
Journal, 90:24-51, 1937. 

18 Op. cit., p. 29. 
"Ibid., p. 31. 

19 Ibid., p. 33- 

16 Ibid., pp. 31 f. 

17 Ibid., p. 72. 

18 Ibid., p. 80. 

19 Ibid., p. 86. 

20 Democracy and Race Friction, pp. 82 f. A footnote reference after the first sen- 
tence of the quotation is to an article by Reinsch, "The Negro Race and European 
Civilization/* American Journal of Sociology, 11:155, 1005. Reinsch's paper, one 
of the most extreme examples of the position being considered here, is not cited 
because,, except for Mecklin, references to it are practically never encountered. 

21 The American Race Problem, New York, 1927 (ist ed.), pp. 197 ff. 

22 Ibid. (2nd ed.), pp. 310! 

18 " 'Secret Societies/ Religious Cult-Groups, and Kinship Units among the 
West African Yoruba," Unpublished Doctor's Thesis, Northwestern University, 

I939- 

24 Ashanti, pp. 90 f. 

28 Nights with Uncle Remus, Boston, 1911 ; Uncle Remus Returns, Boston, 1918; 
Uncle Remus t His Songs and Sayings, New York, 1929. 



REFERENCES 307 

10 By M. J. Herskovits, principally in Dahomey and among the Ashanti. 

27 See pp. 269 ff . 

28 Religion and Art in Ashanti, passim. 

29 Cf. numerous articles in Africa, London ; Journal de la Soc. des Africanistes, 
Paris ; Anthropos, Modlingbei-Wien ; American Anthropologist, Menasha, Wis. ; 
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, London ; Congo, Brussels; Zeitschrift 
fur Ethnologic, Berlin; and other reviews. 

80 "Nupe State and Community," Africa, 8 1257-303, 1935 ; "Witchcraft and Anti- 
Witchcraft in Nupe Society," Africa, 8 : 423-447, 1935. 

81 "Ritual Festivals and Social Cohesion in the Hinterland of the Gold Coast/' 
American Anthropologist, 38:590-604; Marriage Law Among the Tallensi, Accra 
(Gold Coast), 1937; "Communal Fishing and Fishing Magic in the Northern 
Territories of the Gold Coast," four. Royal Anth. Inst., 67:131-142, 1937; "Social 
and Psychological Aspects of Education in Taleland," Supplement to Africa, xi, 
No. 4, London, 1938; M. and S. L. Fortes, "Food in the Domestic Economy of 
the Tallensi," Africa, 9:237-276, 1936. 

82 Deborah Lifszyc and Denise Paulme, "Les Animaux dans le Folklore Dogon," 
Rev. de Folklore Franc, ais et de Folklore Colonial, 6:282-292, 1936; "La Fete des 
Semailles en 1935 chez les Dogon de Sanga," Jour, de la Soc. des Africanistes, 
6:95-110, 1936; Michel Leiris and Andre Schaeffner, "Les rites de circoncision 
chez les Dogon de Sanga," Jour, de la Soc. des Africanistes, 6:141-162, 1936; Marcel 
Griaule, "Blason totemiques des Dogon," Jour, de la Soc. des Africanistes, 7 :69~78, 
1937; Denise Paulme, "La Divination par les chaculs chez les Dogon de Sanga," 
Jour, de la Soc. des Africanistes, 7:1-14, 1937; Deborah Lifszyc, "Les formules 
propitiatoires chez les Dogon," Jour, de la Soc. des Africanistes, 7:33-56, 1937. 

83 C. D. Forde, "Land and Labour in a Cross River Village" ; "Fission and 
Accretion in the Patrilineal Clans of a Semi-Bantu Community in Southern 
Nigeria," Jour. Royal Anth. Inst., 68:311-338, 1938; "Government in Umor," 
Africa, 12:129-162, 1939; J. S. Harris, "The Position of Women in a Nigerian 
Society," Trans. New York Academy of Science, Ser. II, 2:141-148, 1940. 

84 N. de Cleene, "Les Chefs Indigenes au Mayombe," Africa, 8:63-75, 1935; 
"La Famille dans 1'Organization Social du Mayombe," Africa, 10:1-15, 1937; 

C. Estermann, "La Tribu Kwangama en Face de la Civilisation Europeenne," 
Africa, 7:431-443, 1934; "Les Forgerous Kwangama," Bull, de la Soc. Neu- 
chdteloise de Geographic, 44:109-116, 1936; "Coutumes des Mbali du Sud d' Angola," 
Africa, 12:74-76, 1939. 

85 "Les Tribus du rameau Lobi, Volta Noire moyenne," Tr. et Mem. de I'lnst. 
d" Ethnologic, Vol. XV, Paris, 1931 ; Louis Tauxier, Le Noir du Soudan; Pays 
Mossi et Gourounsi, Paris, 1912; Le Noir du Yatenga, Paris, 1917; Charles 
Monteil, Les Khassonke, Monographic d'une peuplade du Soudan franfais, Paris, 
1915; Les Bambaras de Segon et du Kaarta, Paris, 1924; Maurice Delafosse, Haut 
Senegal-Niger (Soudan frangais), 3 vols., Paris, 1912; Louis Desplagnes, Le 
Plateau Central Nigerien, Paris, 1907; Marcel Griaule, "Jeux Dogons," Tr. et 
Mem. de I 1 Inst. d'Ethnologie, Vol. XXXII, Paris, 1938; "Masques Dogons," Tr. 
et Mem. de Vlnst. d'Ethnologie, Vol. XXXIII, Paris, 1938. 

86 N. W. Thomas, Anthropological Report on Sierra Leone, London, 1916 ; 

D. Westermann, Die Kpelle, ein Negerstamm in Liberia, Gottingen, 1921. 

87 S. W. Koelle, African Native Literature ... in the Kanuri or Bornu Lan- 
guage . . . , London, 1854. 

88 Negres Gouro et Gagou (centre de la Cote d'lvoire), Paris, 1924; Religion, 
Mceurs et Coutumes des Agnis de la Cote d'lvoire, Paris, 1932. 

89 The Northern Tribes of Nigeria, London, 1925 (2 vols.) ; A Sudanese King- 
dom, London, 1031 ; Tribal Studies in Northern Nigeria, London, 1931 (2 vols.) ; 
"The Kulu in Northern Nigeria," Africa, 7:257-269, 1934; Law and Authority in 
a Nigerian Tribe, Oxford, 1937. 

40 In the Shadow of the Bush, London, 1916 ; Life in Southern Nigeria, London, 



308 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

1923; The Peoples of Southern Nigeria, London, 1926 (4 vols.) ; Some Nigerian 
Fertility Cults, London, 1927. 

^Anthropological report on the Edo-speaking peoples in Nigeria, London, 1910; 
Anthropological report on the Ibo-speaking Peoples of Nigeria, London, 1913-1914 
(6 vols.). 

42 Urwald-documente. Vier jahre unter den crossflussnegern Kameruns, Berlin, 
1908. 

48 Die Pangwe, Berlin, 1913 (2 vols.) ; Die Baja, ein Negerstantm in Mittleren 
Sudan, Stuttgart, 1934. 

44 "Notes on the ethnography of the BaMbala," Jour. Royal Anth. Inst., 35: 
398-426, 1905 ; "Notes ethnographiques sur les peuples communement appeles 
Bakuba, ainsi que sur les peuplades apparentees. Les Bushongo," Annales de la 
Musee du Congo Beige. Ethnographic, Anthropologie, ser. 3, t. 2, Brussels, 1910; 
"Notes ethnographiques sur les populations habitant les bassins du Kasai et du 
Congo beige/' Annales de la Musee du Congo Beige. Ethnographie, Anthropologie, 
sir. 3, t. 2, Brussels, 1910. 

45 "The Ovimbundu of Angola," Field Museum of Natural History, Anth. Ser., 
21 190-362, Chicago, 1934. 

46 Collection de Monographies ethnographiques, Brussels, 1907-1911, Vols. I- 
VIII. 

47 Among Congo Cannibals, Philadelphia, 1913; Among the Primitive BaKongo, 
London, 1914. 

48 Ad. Cureau, Les Socictes Primitives de I'Ajrique quatoriale, Paris, 1921 ; 
E. Verhulpen, Baluba et Balubaises du Katanga, Antwerp (not dated). 

49 Alice Werner, Structure and Relationship of African Languages, London, 
1930. 

60 Ibid., pp. 13 ff. 

51 Ibid., pp. 32 f. 

52 Ibid., pp. 47 f. 
88 See pp. 275 ff. 

54 M. J. Herskovits, "The Culture Areas of Africa," Africa, 3 159-77, 1930. 



CHAPTER IV 



1 Redfield, Linton and Herskovits, "Memorandum for the Study of Accultura- 
tion," American Anthropologist, loc. cit., p. 152, IV, C. 

2 An Abstract of the Evidence delivered before a Select Committee of the 
House of Commons in the Years 1790, and 1791 . . . London, 1791, pp. 38 ff. 

8 An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa, London, 1/88, p. 30. 
4 A New Account of some parts of Guinea, and the Slave-Trade . . . , pp. 162 ff. 
6 American Negro Slavery, p. 35. 

6 "American Slave Insurrections before 1861," Journal of Negro History, 22: 
303 ft- 1937- 

I Ibid., pp. 302 f. The citation to the quotation and the captain's statement are 
Donnan, Documents Illustrative of the Slave Trade to America, Vol. Ill, pp. 293, 
325 ; that to the lawsuit is Catterall, Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery 
and the Negro, Vol. I, pp. 19 f., where a full description of the revolt on which 
action was based is to be read. Other instances of revolt insurance are cited by 
Wish as these are found in the same works, Donnan, Vol. Ill, p. 217, and Catterall, 
Vol. Ill, p. 568. 

8 Cf. Ramos, The Negro in Brazil, pp. 24 f., for a discussion of this same point 
as concerns Brazil. 

9 Herskovits, Life in a Haitian Valley, pp. 59 f. ; references to data cited will be 
found in the notes to this passage. 

10 This account is abstracted from Ramos, The Negro in Brazil, pp. 42 flF., and 
C. E. Chapman, "Palmares ; The Negro Numantia," Journal of Negro History t 
3:29-32, 1918: see also Ramos, ibid., pp. 24 ff., and Johnston, The Negro in the 
New World, pp. 95 f., for a long series of later Brazilian slave revolts. 

II Cf. Stedman, Narrative of a five years' expedition against the Revolted 
Negroes of Suriname, passim; M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Rebel Destiny, passim. 
This most recent incident has not been published, as far as is known. 

12 L. A. Pendleton, "Our New Possessions the Danish West Indies," Journal 
of Negro History, 2:267-288, 1917. The data concerning the revolt are from C. E. 
Taylor, Leaflets from the Danish West Indies, London, 1888. 

13 W. Westergaard, "Account of the Negro Rebellion on St. Croix, Danish West 
Indies, 1759," Journal of Negro History, n 150-61, 1926. 

14 Pendleton, op. cit., pp. 277 ff. 

15 See p. 90; see also Phillips, American Negro Slavery, p. 464. 

16 Herskovits, Life in a Haitian Valley, pp. 60 ff. ; citations to sources are ap- 
pended to the quotations. 

17 The only published data on the Black Carihs are in a paper by Eduard 
Conzemius, "Ethnographical Notes on the Black Carib (Garif)," American An- 
thropologist, 30:183-205, 1928. 

18 Cf. Johnston, The Negro in the Neiv World, p. 314. 

19 Ibid., pp. 217 ff. ; Phillips, American Negro Slavery, pp. 464 f., dates the first 
revolt at 1675, and gives slightly differing versions of subsequent events from 
those of Johnston. 

309 



3io THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

20 The best source for the Maroon uprising and deportation is Bryan Edwards, 
The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies, 
Vol. I, Appendix No. 2, pp. 522 ff. 

21 Cf. Phillips, American Negro Slavery, p. 466. 

22 The Homes of the New World, New York, 1868, Vol. II, p. 346. 

28 Ibid., pp. 331 f. The Luccomees, as far as can be discovered, are the counterpart 
of the people termed Yoruba or Nago by the French and British writers. 

24 The Rise of American Civilisation, New York, 1930 (i-vol. ed.). 

25 Fred A. Shannon, Economic History of the United States, New York, 1934, 

p. 324. 

26 The Rise of the Common Man, 1830-1850, New York, 1935, pp. 282 f. 

27 Curtis P. Nettels, The Roots of American Civilization, New York, 1938, p. 
468; Guion G. Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1937, pp. 510 ff. 

28 Wish, "American Slave Insurrections before 1861," pp. 306 ff.; Aptheker, 
"American Negro Slave Revolts," Science and Society, 1 1512-538, 1937, and Negro 
Slave Revolts in the United States, New York, 1939. 

29 Negro Slave Revolts in the United States, pp. i6f. 

80 Ibid., pp. 71 f. 

81 "The Slave Insurrection Panic of 1856," Journal of Southern History, 5 :2o6, 

I939- 
^ 2 Ibid., p. 222. 

88 This revolt has been the inspiration of a powerful novel, almost alone in its 
exploitation of this type of situation Arna Bontemps, Black Thunder, New York, 
1936. 

84 J. C. Ballagh, A History of Slavery in Virginia, Baltimore, 1902, p. 89. 

85 See Herbert Aptheker, "Maroons within the Present Limits of the United 
States," Journal of Negro History, 24:167-184, 1939; and Joshua R. Giddings, 
The Exiles of Florida, Columbus, Ohio, 1858. 

86 B. Schrieke, Alien Americans, a Study of Race Relations, New York, 1936, 
pp. 123 ff. 

87 Frederick L. Olmsted, A Journey in the Back Country, New York, 1863, 
p. 228. 

M Ibid., pp. 65 f. 

89 Olmsted, A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, New York, 1856, pp. 481 f. 

40 Ibid., pp. 480 f. 

41 Ibid., p. loo. 

42 Ibid., p. 91. 
48 fbid., p. 388. 

44 Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, New York, 1907, 
Vol. II, p. 108. 

45 Slavery in the United States, New York, 1837, pp. 69 f. 

46 W. S. Drewry, Slave Insurrections in Virginia, 1830-1865, Washington, 1900, 
p. 27- 

47 The Plantation Overseer, as Revealed in his Letters, Northampton (Mass.), 
1925, pp. 20 f. 

48 The Negro in Maryland, a Study of the Institution of Slavery, Baltimore, 
1889, pp. 132 f. 

49 A Journey in the Back Country, p. 476. 

50 William Still, The Underground Railroad, Philadelphia, 1872. 
81 Ibid., p. 57- 

62 Ibid., pp. 58 f. 

68 Harvey Wish, "Slave Disloyalty under the Confederacy," Journal of Negro 
History, 23 :435-450, 1938 ; Herbert Aptheker, The Negro in the Civil War, New 
York, 1938. 

54 Cf. Elizabeth Hyde Botume, First Days amongst the Contrabands, Boston, 
1893, for a vivid picture of the reaction of the Negroes in this situation. 



REFERENCES 311 

85 The Homes of the New World, Vol. II, p. 338. 

M Description . . . de la partie jrangaise de I'Isle Saint Domingue, Vol. I, pp. 

29 f- 

87 Cf. M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, "A Footnote to the History of Negro Slav- 
ing," loc. cit., and M. J. Herskovits, "The Social History of the Negro," loc. cit., pp. 

239 ff- 

68 Nouveau Voyage aux Isles d'Ameriquc, Vol. II, p. 39. 

59 A New Account of some Parts of Guinea, and the Slave-Trade . . . , pp. 

158 f. 

60 An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa, p. 18. 

61 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, "A Footnote to the History of Negro Slaving," 
loc. cit., p. 178. 



CHAPTER V 



1 The Negro Family in the United States, pp. 5 ff. 

2 See pp. 11-12. 

8 Guion G. Johnson, A Social History of the Sea Islands, with Special Refer- 
ence to St. Helena Island, South Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1930, p. 31. 

4 Ramos, The Negro in Brazil, pp. 17 ff. 

5 The Plantation Overseer, as Revealed in his Letters, p. 3. 

6 The Southern Plantation, A Study in the Development and the Accuracy of a 
Tradition, New York, 1925, p. 148. 

7 Bracket!, The Negro in Maryland . . . , pp. 38 f. 

8 Johnson, A Social History of the Sea Islands, p. 127. 

9 Ibid., p. 131. 

10 Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina, p. 526. 

11 Ibid., p. 469. 

12 American Negro Slavery, p. 75. 
18 Ibid., pp. 83 f. 

14 Ibid., pp. 232 f. 

15 Ibid., p. 84. 

18 Ibid., pp. 95 f. 

17 A Second Visit to the United States of North America, New York, 1849, 
Vol. I, pp. 268 f. 

18 C. S. Johnson, Shadow of the Plantation, p. 8. 

19 "Plantations with Slave Labor and Free," American Historical Review, 30: 
743 f., 1924-1925. 

20 Herskovits, Life in a Haitian Valley, pp. 39 f. ; translated from Pierre de 
Vassiere, Saint-Domingue (1629-1789), la societe et la vie Creole sous I'ancien 
regime, Paris, 1909, pp. 280 f. 

21 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, pp. 10 f. 

22 M. J. Herskovits, The American Negro, A Study in Racial Crossing, New 
York, 1928, and "Social Selection and the Formation of Human Types," Human 
Biology, 1 1250-262, 1929. 

23 Herskovits, op. cit. ; see also Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town, 
p. 70. 

24 Olmsted's commentary is germane here : "In the French, Dutch, Danish, Ger- 
man, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies, the white fathers of colored children have 
always been accustomed to educate and emancipate them and endow them with 
property. In Virginia, and the English colonies generally, the white fathers of 
mulatto children have always been accustomed to use them in a way that most 
completely destroys the oft complacently-asserted claim, that the Anglo-Saxon race 
is possessed of deeper natural affection than the more demonstrative sort of man- 
kind." A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, New York, 1856, p. 232. For data 
indicating the relative numbers of mulattoes among the free Negroes of pre-Civil 
War times see E. F. Frazier, The Free Negro Family, a Study of Family Origins 
before the Civil War, Nashville, 1932, pp. 12 f., and "Traditions and Patterns of 

3" 



REFERENCES 313 

Negro Family Life in the United States," in: E. B. Reuter, Race and Culture 
Contacts, New York, 1934, pp. 204 ff. 

25 American Negro Slavery, p. 75. 

26 Ibid., p. 291. 

27 A Second Visit to the United States of North America, Vol. I, p. 263. 

28 Memorials of a Southern Planter, Baltimore, 1887, p. 192. 

29 Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom, New York and Auburn, 

1855, P- 59- 

30 Johnson, Ante-Belliim North Carolina, p. 83. 

81 Bremcr, The Homes of the Neiv World, Vol. II, p. 449. 

32 R. Bickell, The West Indies as They Are; or a Real Picture of Slavery . . . 
in the Island of Jamaica, London, 1825, pp. 54 f. 

83 Op. cit. t Vol. II, p. 20. 

3t Ibid., pp. 24 f. 

35 Bruce, Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, Vol. II, 
pp. 105 f. 

30 Olmsted, A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, pp. 47 f. 

37 Ibid., p. 17- 

38 Johnson, A Social History of the Sea Islands . . . , pp. 771. 

89 The effect of such procedures in the way of obtaining a foothold for African 
cooking traditions in the South has, incidentally, been consistently overlooked; 
yet it is not unlikely that the slaves exerted an appreciable influence in shaping 
the cuisine regarded at present as characterizing various regions of the South. 

40 Johnson, A Social History of the Sea Islands .... p. 130. 

41 Cf. F. G. Speck, "The Negroes and the Creek Nation," Southern Workman, 
37:106-110, 1908, and K. W. Porter, "Relations between Negroes and Indians 
within the Present Limits of the United States," Journal of Negro History, ij : 
287-367, 1932 

42 Reuter, The Mulatto in the United States, Boston, 1918, pp. 378 f. 

43 E. F. Frazier, "The Negro Slave Family," Journal of Negro History, 15:215, 
1930. The quotation is from R. E. Park, "The Conflict and Fusion of Cul- 
tures . . ." loc. cit., p. 119. 

44 Frazier, op. cit , p. 258. 

45 Puckett, Polk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 10. 

46 Ibid., p. 284; see also the explanation given by this author on p. 167 for the 
retention of beliefs in magic, or on p. 31 for folk tales. 



CHAPTER VI 



1 Cf. D. Young, American Minority Peoples, New York, 1932, and "Research 
Memorandum on Minority Peoples in the Depression," Bull. 31, Soc. Sci. Research 
Council, New York, 1937, for the setting of the Negro in the larger minority 
group situation in this country. 

2 W. R. Bascom, "Acculturation among the Gullah Negroes," Amer. Anth., 43 : 
43-50, 1941. 

3 Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. I, pp. 32 f., Plate 3, and Life in a Haitian Valley, 
p. 254, plate opposite p. 100. 

4 Botume, First Days amongst the Contrabands, p. 53. 

5 Caroline Couper Lovell, The Golden Isles of Georgia, Boston, 1932, pp. 187 f. 

6 The former collected by W. R. Bascom ; the latter by M. J. Herskovits. 

7 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 27. 

8 Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina, Cambridge, 1923, p. 204. 

9 Mary A. Owen, Old Rabbit the Voodoo and Other Sorcerers, London, 1893, 
pp. 10 f. 

10 Doyle, The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South, p. 76, quoting William 
Ferguson, America by River and Rail, London, 1856, p. 149. 

11 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Suriname Folk-Lore, pp. 4 ff. 

12 First Days amongst the Contrabands, p. 59. 

18 The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South, p. 76. 

14 My Bondage and My Freedom, pp. 69 f. 

15 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 393. 

16 Ibid., p. 23. 

17 Ibid., p. 394. 

18 For illustrations of this and other instances of how elaborate the rules of 
etiquette can be in a Negro tribe, see M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Rebel Destiny, 
various passages indicated under "Etiquette" in the index. 

19 Caste and Class in a Southern Town, p. 6. 

20 The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South, p. 161. 

21 Ibid., pp. 79 f. The first illustration is given as from Olmsted, The Cotton 
Kingdom: a Traveler's Observations on Cotton and Slavery in the American 
Southern States, New York, 1861, Vol. II, pp. I f . ; the second from Douglass, My 
Bondage and My Freedom, pp. 252 f. 

22 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 50. 

28 Charles C. Jones, The Religious Instruction of the Negroes, Savannah, 1842, 
pp. 130 f. 

24 M. J. Herskovits, "Adjiboto, an African Game of the Bush-Negroes of Dutch 
Guiana," Man, 29:122-127, 1929, and "Wari in the New World," Jour, of Royal 
Anth. Inst., 62:23-37, 1932. 

25 Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution, pp. 107 ff., and Herskovits, Dahomey, 
Vol. I, pp. io6ff., Vol. II, pp. 72 ff. 

26 Powdermaker, After Freedom, p. 126. 

27 "African Institutions in America," Journal of American Folk-Lore, 18:15-32, 
1905 ; see also Bernard C. Steiner, "History of Slavery in Connecticut," Johns 
Hopkins Univ. Stud, in Hist, and Pol. Sci., nth Ser., September-October, 1893. 

M Aitnes, ibid., p. 16 ; Steiner, ibid. f p. 78. 



REFERENCES 315 

29 Steiner, op. cit., pp. 78 f. ; see also Aimes, op. cit., p. 16. 

80 Ibid., p. 19. 

81 Paul Lewinson, Race, Class, and Party; a History of Negro Suffrage and 
White Politics in the South, New York, 1932, passim. 

32 Cf. among others Forde, "Land and Labour in a Cross River Village" ; Rene 
Maunier, "La Construction Collective de la Maison en Kabylie," Tr. et Mem., Inst. 
d'Eth.,.Vo\. Ill, Paris, 1926; Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. I, pp. 75 f. 

33 W. R. Bascom, "Acculturation among the Gullah Negroes," Amer. Anth., 43: 
44-46, 1941. 

34 H. W. Odum, Social and Mental Traits of the American Negro, New York, 
1910, pp. 98 f. 

85 Ibid., pp. 104 f. 

86 Ibid., p. 249. 

87 After Freedom, p. 122. 

88 Shadow of the Plantation, p. 183, n. 4. 

89 W. E. B. Du Bois (Ed.), "Economic Co-operation among Negro Americans," 
Atlanta University Publications, No. 12, Atlanta, 1907, p. 92. 

40 Ibid., p. 96. 

41 "The Beginnings of Insurance Enterprise among Negroes," Journal of Negro 
History, 22:417-432, 1937. 

42 Ibid., p. 417. Cf. the comments of Cornelius King, an official of the Farm 
Credit Administration, on Negro cooperation, in an article entitled, "Cooperation 
Nothing New," Opportunity, 18:328, 1940. 

43 Cf. Gist, Noel, "Secret Societies: A Cultural Study of Fraternalism in the 
United States," Univ. Missouri Studies, 15:1-184, 1940. 

44 Herskovits, Life in a Haitian Valley, pp. 107 ff., 258 ff. 

45 Shadow of the Plantation, p. 49. 

46 The Ncfjro Family in the United States, pp. 109 f., 343 ff., 620 fT. 

47 Negro Illegitimacy in New York City, New York, 1926, passim. 

48 As indicated, for example, by Parsons, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South 
Carolina, p. 206. 

49 Shadow of the Plantation, pp. 66 f. 

50 M. J. Herskovits, "A Note on 'Woman Marriage' in Dahomey," Africa, 10 : 

335-341, 1937- 

51 After Freedom, p. 149. 
62 Ibid., pp. I56ff. 

88 Frazier, The Negro Family in the United States, pp. 126 f. 
"Ibid., p. 326. 
"Ibid., pp. 461 f. 

66 Shadow of the Plantation, pp. 29, 32 f., 39 f. 

87 Ibid., p. 37- 

88 After Freedom, pp. 146 f. 

69 The Negro Family in the United States, p. 153. 

90 I bid., p. 158. 

61 After Freedom, p. 147. 

62 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 23. 

88 Tradition and Patterns of Negro Family Life in the United States," loc. c\t.. 
p. 198. 

64 Shadow of the Plantation, p. 29. 

65 The Negro Family in the United States, pp. 57 f. 
" Ibid., p. 55- 

67 "The Negro Slave Family," loc. cit,, p. 234. 

68 Ibid. 

69 Shadow of the Plantation, pp. 48 f. 

T0 Powdermaker, After Freedom, p. 146. 

71 Ibid., p. 127. 

T1 M. J. Herskovits, V. K. Cameron, and Harriet Smith, "The Physical Form 



316 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

of Mississippi Negroes," American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 16:193-201, 

1931. 
78 Frazier, The Negro Family in the United States, pp. 258 f. 

74 Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. I, pp. 139 ff. 

75 Frazier, op. cit., pp. 257 f. 

78 First Days amongst the Contrabands, p. 48. 

77 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 559 ; the reference made is to Fanny 
D. Bergen, "Animal and Plant Lore," Mem. Amer. Folk-Lore Society, Vol. VII, 
1899, p. 84. 

7R Frazier, op. cit., p. 259. 

79 Johnson, Shadow of the Plantation, pp. 57 f. 

80 Ibid., pp. 64 f. 

81 Ibid., p. 71. 

82 Powdcrmaker, After Freedom, pp. 201 ff. 

83 The most complete collection of data of this sort is in V. K. Cameron, "Folk 
Beliefs Pertaining to Health of the Southern Negro," unpublished Master's 
Thesis, Northwestern University, 1930, pp. 18 ff. 

8 *The fullest materials on these points are to be found in Parsons, "Folk-Lore 
of the Sea Islands, South Carolina," passim; and Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the 
Southern Negro, pp. 332 ff. 

85 Cf. Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. I, pp. 262 f., 270 ff., for instances of this. 

80 "Record of Negro Folk-Lore," Journal of American Folk-Lore, 19:76!., 1906. 

87 Loc. cit., as from M. N. Work, "Some Geechee Folk-Lore," Southern Work- 
man, 35 1633-635, 1905. 

88 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 100. 

89 Op. cit., p. 107. 

90 "Braziel Robinson Possessed of Two Spirits," Journal of American Folk- 
Lore, 13:226-228, 1900. 

91 Op. cit., pp. 335 f. 

92 Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina, p. 198. 

93 Op. cit., pp. 334 f. 

9 * Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti, pp. 51 ff. ; and Herskovits, Dahomey, 
Vol. I, pp. 259 ff. For lists of Dahomean names of this sort, see Herskovits, espe- 
cially pp. 263 ff. 

95 Turner's materials are not as yet available in published form ; for a prelim- 
inary report on Puckett's elaborate project in the study of Negro names and their 
derivation see his paper "Names of American Negro Slaves," in: G. P. Murdock, 
Studies in the Science of Society Presented to Albert Galloway Keller, New 
Haven, 1937, pp. 471-494- 

90 Ibid., pp. 474 f. ; the references are to J. C. Cobb, Mississippi Scenes, Phila- 
delphia, 1815, p 173, and to Carter G. Woodson, Free Negro Heads of Families 
in the United States in 1830, Washington, 1925. 

97 Puckett, op. cit., p. 475. 

98 Personal communication. 

99 Given in his mimeographed report. 

100 pjrst Days amongst the Contrabands, pp. 48 f. 

101 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, pp. 340 ff. 

102 Ibid., p. 340. 

103 Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina, p. 199 ; the importance of the 
crossroads, like the calling of the child's soul, comes directly from Africa, despite 
the footnoted comment by the author on the resemblance of the calling practice 
having been observed among the Zuiii Indians, "who have taken it, no doubt, from 
their Mexican neighbors." 

104 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Suriname Folk-Lore, pp. 49 ff. 

105 Folk Beliefs Pertaining to Health of the Southern Negro, p. 50. 

106 Op. cit., p. 199. 

107 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 347. 



REFERENCES 317 

JOB Powdermaker, After Freedom, p. 208. 

109 Ibid., pp. 208 f. 

110 Frazier, The Negro Family in the United States, pp. 255 f. ; see also a 
passage pp. 495 f. 

111 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Rebel Destiny, chap. I. 

112 Beckwith, Black Roadways, a Study in Jamaican Folk Life, pp. 71 ff. ; Ramos, 
Negro Brasileiro, pp. 140 ff. ; Herskovits, Life in a Haitian Valley, pp. 205 ff. 

113 Social and Mental Traits of the American Negro, pp. 133 f. 

114 After Freedom, p. 122. 

115 Ibid., p. 133. 

116 Shadow of the Plantation, p. 183 ; cf . also Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the South- 
ern Negro, p. 87. 

117 Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. I, pp. 353 ff. ; cf. also the reference in R. S. 
Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti, p. 178, which indicates that this custom was 
also known in the Gold Coast. 

118 Frazier, "The Negro Slave Family," he. cit., p. 216. The citation is from 
William E. Hatcher, John Jasper, The Unmatched Negro Philosopher and Preacher, 
New York, 1908, pp. 36 ff. 

119 Frazier, op. cit.; this quotation is from Bishop L. J. Coppin, Unwritten His- 
tory, Philadelphia, 1919, p. 55. 

120 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, pp. 93 f. 

121 For an account of an African rite performed in connection with sending the 
soul of a dead infant back to Africa during the days of slavery, see Ball, Slavery 
in the United States, pp. 264 f. ; this may be compared with the procedure among 
the Guiana Negroes in returning an African spirit to its home as reported in M. J. 
and F. S. Herskovits, Suriname Folk-Lore, p. 86. 

122 Johnson has described the funeral of a man belonging to the group studied 
by him (Shadoiv of the Plantation, pp. 162 ff.), and Powdermaker has given a less 
complete account of a "middle-class" funeral (After Freedom, pp. 249 ff.). Neither 
of these students, however, "carries through" his description by describing pre- 
mortuary and immediate postmortuary and postfuneral rites outside the church. 

123 Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 90. 

124 Ibid., p. 92. 

125 Ibid., pp. 92 f. 
120 Ibid., p. 88. 

127 Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina, p. 215. 

128 Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. II, pp. 195 ff. 

129 Herskovits, Life in a Haitian Valley, pp. 213 f. 

130 Shadow of the Plantation, p. 165. 

131 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 80. 

132 Shadoiv of the Plantation, p. 22. 

133 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 85. 

134 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Rebel Destiny, p. 18. 

135 Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina, p. 213. 

130 Op. cit., p. 99; for a parallel to the rite given in the last sentence cf. Hers- 
kovits, Dahomey, Vol. I, pp. 374 f., where an account is given of the manner in 
which the young men run with the corpse through the village. 

187 Puckett, op. cit., p. 82. 

188 Ibid., p. 87. 
139 Ibid., p. 84. 
Ibid., p. 128. 

141 Ibid., pp. 107 ff., passim; Zora Hurston, Mules and Men, Philadelphia, 1935, 
PP^ 283 ff. 

142 Puckett, op. cit. t pp. 102 ff. 

144 Ibid., pp. 104 f. ; Parsons, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina, pp. 
213 f. 



CHAPTER VII 



1 Bertram W. Doyle, "Racial Traits of the Negro as Negroes Assign Them to 
Themselves," unpublished Master's Thesis, University of Chicago, 1924, p. 90, 
citing W. J. Gaines, The Negro and the White Man, Philadelphia, 1910, p. 185. 

2 Caste and Class in a Southern Town, pp. 224 f. 

8 L. P. Jackson, "Religious Development of the Negro in Virginia from 1760 to 
1860," Journal of Negro History, 16:198, 1931. 

4 Ibid., p. 170. 

5 Ibid., p. 211 (footnote 115). 

6 Ibid., p. 198. 
T Ibid., p. 199. 

8 Doyle, Etiquette of Race Relations, p. 45, quoting Mary Roykin Chestnut, A 
Diary from Dixie, New York, 1905, p. 354. 

9 Shadoiv of the Plantation, pp. 151 f. 

10 The Religious Instruction of the Negroes, pp. 49 ff., passim. 

11 Op. cit., in numerous passages, e.g., pp. 232 f. 

12 Op. cit., pp. 125 f. 

18 John B. Cade, "Out of the Mouths of Ex-Slaves," Journal of Negro History f 

20:331, 1935. 

14 Powdermaker, After Freedom, p. 270 ; Frazier, The Negro Family in the 
United States, pp. 30 f. ; Doyle, op. cit. t pp. 43 f. 

15 Doyle, op. cit., p. 32. 

16 Op. cit., pp. 223, 239. 

17 Raymond J. Jones, "A Comparative Study of Religious Cult Behavior Among 
Negroes with Special Reference to Emotional Group Conditioning Factors," 
Howard University Studies in the Social Sciences, Vol. II, no. 2, Washington, 
1939, P. 2 ff. 

18 Ibid., p. 5 ; the "Classified Table of Religious Cults in the United States" given 
by this author on pp. 124 f. of his work will be found useful. 

19 The Homes of the New World, Vol. I, p. 311. 

20 Op. cit., pp. 71 ff. It is somewhat difficult to understand why this student was 
content to report only services of secondary importance. Meetings on Monday and 
Friday nights and Saturday mornings are hardly those at which gatherings large 
enough to be typical would be found. That no services taking place on Sundays or 
on religious holidays are analyzed by him is unfortunate, since at these times 
larger congregations heighten tensions and enhance an emotional tone sufficiently 
deep even on lesser occasions. 

21 In Freedom's Birthplace . . . , pp. 244 ff. 

22 Social and Mental Traits of the Negro, pp. 74 f., 83 ff. 
28 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, pp. 532 ff. 

24 Caste and Class in a Southern Town, pp. 344 ff. 

28 After Freedom, pp. 232 ff. 

28 W. E. Barton, Old Plantation Hymns, Boston, 1899, pp. 41-42. 

27 Shadow of the Plantation, pp. 159 f. 

28 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Rebel Destiny, pp. 228 ff. ; 307 ff . 

29 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Surinam* Folk-Lore f p. 92. 

318 



REFERENCES 319 

* See p. 1 6 f., notes 27 and 30. 

81 M. J. Herskovits, "African Gods and Catholic Saints in New World Negro 
Belief," Amer. Anth., 39 1635-647, 1937. The point is made the more striking by the 
recent discovery that the identical mechanism is operative among the Moham- 
medanized tribes of West Africa itself, where the /inn are identified with the pagan 
ifka by the Hausa. Cf. J. H. Greenberg, The Religion of a Sudanese Culture as 
Influenced by Islam, unpublished Doctor's Thesis, Northwestern University, 1940, 
and idem., "Some Aspects of Negro-Mohammedan Culture-Contact among the 
Hausa," Amer. Anth., 43:51-61, 1941. 

32 O Negro Brasileiro, Figs. 26, 27, 31, 32. 

88 This field work was carried out in accordance with the systematic program 
of study of New World Negro cultures described on pp. 6 ff., 15 ff. 

34 Cf., for example, his Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, pp. 27 ff., 114, 532, 
548 ff., 567, and 574, for some very cogent references to African aspects of Negro 
religion. 

85 Ibid., pp. 545 f 

88 Op. cit., p. 56. 

87 See pp. 12-14. 

88 Jones, op. cit., pp. 45 f. 

89 E.g., Johnson, Shadow of the Plantation, p. 151. 

40 Jones, op. cit., p. 49. 

41 After Freedom, p. 232. 

42 Ibid., pp. 259 f. 
43 /tod., p. 273. 

44 F. M. Davenport, Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals, New York, 1905, 
pp. 94, 125 f., 133, and 142. 

45 Cf. James Mooney, "The Ghost-Dance Religion with a Sketch of the Sioux 
Outbreak of 1890," I4th Ann. Rep., Bureau of Amer. Ethnology, Part II, Wash- 
ington, 1897 I Leslie Spier, "The Prophet Dance of the Northwest and Its Deriva- 
tives : the Source of the Ghost Dance," Gen. Ser. in Anthropology, No. I, Menasha 
(Wis.), 1935- 

46 Davenport, op. cit., p. 73. 

47 Ibid., p. 77. 

48 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, pp. 539 f. 

49 "Religious Folk-Beliefs of Whites and Negroes," Journal of Nefyro History, 

i6:9-3S, 1931. 
60 Op. cit., p. 92. 

51 "Religious Folk-Beliefs of Whites and Negroes," loc. cit., pp. 26 f. 

52 Ibid., pp. 20 f. 

68 Cf. the description in Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town, p. 236. 
54 James Mooney, "The Cherokee River Cult," Journal of American Folk-Lore, 
13:1 ff., IQOO. 
" Op. cit., p. 262. 
88 Ibid. 
57 See p. 18. 

68 Folk-Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 219, from G. W. Cable, The Grandis- 
simes, New York, 1898. 

69 Ibid. (Puckett), p. 221 ; ibid. (Cable), pp. 91 f- 

60 Green Thursday, New York, p. 28. 

61 Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. I, p. 35. 

62 Puckett, Folk-Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 421. 
n lbid., pp. 257, 319, 381, 424. 

64 Ibid., p. 553. 

65 Folk Beliefs Pertaining to Health of the Southern Negro, p. 37. 

66 Henry C. Davis, "Negro Folklore in South Carolina," Journal of American 
Folk-Lore, 37:245, 1914; Puckett, op. cit. f p. 290. 



32O THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

67 Puckett, op. cit., p. 399. 

68 B. A. Botkin, " 'Folk-Say' and Folk-Lore," in W. T. Couch, Culture in the 
South, Chapel Hill, 1934, p. 590. 

09 Folk-Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 311. 

70 Folk Beliefs Pertaining to Health of the Southern Negro, pp. 36 f. 

71 Ibid., pp. 40 ff . 

72 Ibid., pp. 46 f. 

78 Judicial C?ses Concerning American Slavery and the Negro, Vol. II, pp. 520 f. 

74 My Bondage and My Freedom, pp. 238 f. 

75 Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. II, pp. 256 ff. 

76 Folk-Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 287. 

77 Ibid., p. 296; the quotation is from A. M. Bacon, "Conjuring and Conjure- 
Doctors," Southern Workman, 24:211, 1895, and the footnoted references state that 
"this paper gives several illustrative cases." 

78 Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. II, pp. 285 ff. 

79 Folk-Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 229; citing Mary A. Owen, "Among 
the Voodoos," Proc. of the Int. Folk-Lore Congress, 1891, pp. 232 ff. 

80 Herskovits, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 263 ff. 

81 Old Rabbit the Voodoo and Other Sorcerers, London, 1893. 

82 Mules and Men, Philadelphia, 1935. 

83 E.g., Louis Pendleton, "Negro Folk-Lore and Witchcraft in the South," 
Journal of American Folk-Lore, 3:201-207, 1890; (Miss) Herron and A. M. 
Bacon, "Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors in the Southern United States," ibid. t 9: 
143-147, 224-226, 1896; Ruby Adams Moore, "Superstitions of Georgia," ibid., $: 
230-231, 1892, and 9:227-228, 1896; Julian A. Hall, "Negro Conjuring and Trick- 
ing," ibid., 10:241-243, 1897. 

84 E.g., 3:281 ff., 1890; 12:288 ff., 1899; and 19:76 f., 1906, among others. 

85 "Hoodoo in America," Journal of Amcrcian Folk-Lore, 44:318 ff., 1931. 

86 Mules and Me,n, pp. 239 ff. 

87 Fabulous New Orleans, New York, 1928, pp. 309 ff. 

88 The Grandissimes, pp. 85, 167. 
"Ibid., pp. 281, 380. 

90 Ibid., pp. 91 f- 

91 See p. 236. 

92 Cable, op. cit., pp. 167, 281. 

93 Ibid., p. 296. 

94 Ibid., p. 229. 

95 Ibid., pp. 135 f. 

96 Journal of American Folk-Lore, 10.76, 1897. 

97 Article "Vaudou," Grand Dictionnaire Univcrsel du XIX Sie'cle, ed. Larousse, 
Paris, 1866-1890, Vol. XV, p. 812. 

98 Mules and Men, p. 242. 
"Ibid., p. 253. 

100 Ibid., p. 248. 

101 Ibid., p. 299 f- 

102 Ibid., p. 300. 

103 Herskovits, Life in a Haitian Valley, pp. 169 ff. 

104 Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. II, pp. 189, 200. 

105 Cf. especially his work, O Negro Brasileiro, Chap. V, "O syncretismo rc- 
ligioso," pp. 75 ff., and photographs such as Fig. 19, of an altar in one of the 
Bahian candombles. 

100 Los Negros Brujos, pp. 53 ff. 

107 Dr. Price-Mars, Ainsl Pa*la I'Onclc, Port-au-Prince, 1928, esp., pp. i8of., 
and Herskovits, Life in a Haitian Valley, pp. 277 ff. 

108 Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 193. This passage is ab- 
stracted from a novel, Mrs. Helen Pitkin's An Angel by Brevet. Puckett states 



REFERENCES 321 

that these happenings, "although written in the form of fiction, are scientifically 
accurate, being an exact reproduction of what she herself has seen or obtained 
from her servants and absolutely free from imagination" (p. 192). In the light of 
the internal evidence, there is no reason to doubt the validity of the performances 
described ; certainly the names of African gods, which check with our scientific 
knowledge of the region and with such other works dealing with New Orleans as 
are available indicate that the paragraph reproduced here, and the entire section of 
which it is a part, are factually valid. It is worth noting that Joao do Rio (Paulo 
Barreto), writing at the turn of the century, noted the identification by the Negroes 
in Rio dc Janeiro of S. Antonio (Saint Anthony) with Verequete. As Religioes no 
Rio, Paris and Rio de Janeiro, n.d., p. 16. 

109 Ibid., pp. 195, 362, 563 ft. 

110 Ibid., pp. 562 f. ; the reference is to M. A. Owen, "Among the Voodoos," 
Proc. of the Int. Folk-Lore Congress, 1891, pp. 232 f. 

111 After Freedom, p. 290. 

112 O/>. ft/., pp. 196 f. 

113 Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 548 ; the quotation is from 
"Race Problems of the South," Report of the Proceedings of the First Annual Con- 
ference of the Southern Society for the Promotion of the Study of Race Conditions 
and Problems in the South, Montgomery, Ala., 1900, p. 143. 

114 Barton, Old Plantation Hymns, p. 1 1. 

115 Mules and Men, p. 306. 

110 Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. II, p. 223. 

117 Louis Pendleton, "Negro Folk-Lorc and Witchcraft in the South," loc . ft/., 
pp. 201 f. 

m M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Suriname Folk-Lore, pp. 105 f. 

119 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, pp. 202 f. ; the quotation is from A. E. 
Gonzales, The Black Border, Columbia, S. C., 1922, p. 107. 

120 Ibid., p. 203. 

121 Ibid., p. 541. 

122 Ibid., p. 51. 

123 Religion and Art in Ashanti, p. 25. 
12 * Ibid., fig. 19. 

125 Ibid., p. 26. 

320 London, 1899, p. 117. 

127 Ibid., p. 28. 

128 Samuel Johnson, The History of the Yoruba, London, 1921, p. 29; Stephen 
S. Farrow, Faith, Fancies and Fetich, or Yoruba Paganism, London, 1926, p. 19; 
and Herskovits, Dahomey, Vol. II, pp. 250-262. 

129 Folk-Lorc of the Sea Islands, South Carolina, p. 213. 

130 Owen, Old Rabbit the Voodoo and other Sorcerers, p. n. 

131 Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, p. 153. 

132 Ibid., pp. 143 f. 

133 Ibid., pp. 154 f. ; the latter two citations are from E. Dayrell, Folk-Stories 
from Southern Nigeria, London, 1910, pp. n ff., and R. H. Milligan, The Fetish 
Folk of West Africa, London, 1912, p. 240; and from G. E. Ellis, Negro Culture in 
West Africa, New York, 1914, p. 63. 

184 Religion and Art in Ashanti, pp. 29 f. 



CHAPTER VIII 



1 This section gives in essence the findings of a report written for the Committee 
on Research in Comparative Musicology, American Council of Learned Societies. 

2 Cf. W. F. Allen, C P. Ware, and Lucy Garrison, Slave Songs of the United 
States, New York, 1868 (reprinted, 1929). 

3 Afro-American Folksongs, New York, 1914. 

4 "American Negro Songs," Int. Rev. of Missions, 15748-753, 1926. 
6 Ibid. 

6 American Negro Folk-Songs, Cambridge, 1928. 

7 "The Genesis of the Negro Spiritual," American Mercury, 26:243-248, 1932; 
White Spirituals of the Southern Uplands, Chapel Hill, 1933; Spiritual Folk- 
Songs of Early America, New York, 1937. 

8 Folk Culture on St. Helena Island, Chapel Hill, 1930; "The Negro Spiritual, 
a Problem in Anthropology," American Anthropologist, 33:151-171, 1931; "Negro 
Folk Songs in the South," in : W. T. Couch, Culture in the South, Chapel Hilt, 
1934, PP- 547-569. 

9 E.g., G. B. Johnson, American Anthropologist, 33:170, 1931. 

10 Cf. the report of his paper read before the American Musicological Society 
as given in the Christian Science Monitor for Sept. 15, 1939, p. I. 

11 Journal of American Folk-Lore, 48:394-397. 

12 Cf. George Herzog, Research in Primitive and Folk Music in the United States, 
Bulletin No. 24, 1936, American Council of Learned Societies, where both publica- 
tions and record collections are listed. 

13 For Haiti we have Harold Courlander's Haiti Singing, New York, 1939 ; for 
Jamaica the melodies transcribed by Helen H. Roberts, "A Study of Folk Song 
Variants Based on Field Work in Jamaica," Journal of American Folk-Lore, 38: 
149-216, 1925, and "Possible Survivals of African Songs in Jamaica," Musical 
Quarterly, n :34-358, 1926, among other titles by this student. A contribution by 
Fernando Ortiz on Cuban Negro Music, especially drum rhythms ("La Musica 
Sagrada de los Negros Yoruba en Cuba," Estudios Afro-Cubanos, 2:89-104, 1938) 
will be found of great value. Musicological analyses and transcriptions of songs 
from Dutch Guiana by Dr. M. Kolinski will be found in M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, 
Suriname Folk-Lore, New York, 1936, pp. 491 ff. 

14 Some Negro melodies are to be found in the work by Mme. Elsie Houston- 
Peret, Chants populaires du Bresil, Paris, 1930. 

15 Attention may be called to the new Argentinian musical review Pauta, the 
first number of which includes a paper entitled "Folklore de la Costa Zamba; 
la Marinera," pp. 5, 32, by the Peruvian student of Negro life, Fernando Romero. 

18 A publication by Douglas H. Varley, "African Native Music, an Annotated 
Bibliography," Royal Empire Society Bibliographies, No. 8, London, 1936, will 
be found as useful for its New World entries (pp. 86 ff.), as for its African 
citations. 

17 An approach such as that suggested by M. Metfessel (in his Phonophotography 
in Folk Music, Chapel Hill, 1928) may be of help in studying problems of this 
order. 

322 



REFERENCES 323 

18 See pp. 15-18. 

19 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Suriname Folk-Lore, loc. cit. 

20 Electrical recordings, subsequently made in Haiti by Allan Lomax in 1936 
for the Library of Congress and by Harold Courlander in 1939 for the Department 
of Anthropology of Columbia University, should be noted. 

21 Those drawn on were R. N. Dett (ed.), Religious Folk-Songs of the Negro as 
Sung at Hampton Institute, Hampton, Va., 1927 ; N. Baltanta, Saint Helena Island 
Spirituals, New York, 1925; J. W. Johnson, Second Book of Negro Spirituals, 
New York, 1926 ; and Allen, Ware, and Garrison, Slave Songs of the United States 
(reprint of 1929). 

22 M. Griaule, "Masques Dogons," Tr. et Mem. de I'lnst. d'Ethnologie, Vol. 
XXXIII, Paris, 1938, pp. 716 ff. 

23 Ibid., Fig. 251, p. 736, especially column four, figures three from top to end, 
and the foot movements noted by the small arrows. 

24 Carried out with the support of a Fellowship grant of the Rosenwald Fund, 
under the sponsorship of the Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University. 

25 "The Dance in Place Congo," Century Magazine, 31:517-532, 1885-1886. 

26 Mules and Men, pp. 299 ff. 

27 Fabulous New Orleans, passim. 

28 The appropriate titles will be found in the Bibliography to M. J. and F. S. 
Herskovits, Suriname Folk-Lore, pp. 762 ff. Since this volume has appeared, cer- 
tain other collections have been published : E. C. Parsons, "Folk-Lore of the 
Antilles, French and English," Mem. American Folk-Lore Society, Vol. XXVI, 
Pt. 2, New York, 1936; Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain, "Creole Tales from Haiti," 
Journal of American Folk-Lore, 50:207-295, 1937, and 51:219-346, 1938; Hurston, 
Mules and Men, 1935; Samuel G. Stoney and Gertrude Mathews Shelby, Black 
Genesis, New York, 1930; M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, "Tales in Pidgin English 
from Ashanti," Journal of American Folk-Lore, 51 :52-ioi, 1937. 

29 E. C. Parsons, "The Provenience of Certain Folk Tales. Ill, Tar Baby," 
Journal of American Folk-Lore, 30:227-234, 1919; W. N. Brown, "The Tar-Baby 
Story at Home," Scientific Monthly, 15:228-234, 1922; Aurelio M. Espinosa, 
"Notes on the Origin and History of the Tar-Baby Story," Journal of American 
Folk-Lore, 43:129-209, 1930. 

30 See pp. i8f. 

81 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Suriname Folk-Lore, pp. 316 f. f n. 2. 

82 Ibid., pp. 326 ff. 

83 Ib id., pp. 324 f. 

84 Ibid., pp. 151 ff., passim. 

35 Mutes and Men, pp. 25 ff. 

36 I bid., pp. i66f. 

87 For the Togoland version, see Jakob Spieth, Die Ewe-Stomme, Berlin, 1906, 
P- 557- 

88 Stoney and Shelby, Black Genesis. 

39 Personal communication. 

40 Lorenzo D. Turner, West African Survivals in the Vocabulary of Gullah, pre- 
sented before the Modern Language Association, New York meeting, December, 
1938. 

41 The marks after these African words indicate their tonal registers, (~) being high tone, 
(_) low tone, ( "^ ) a glide of high to low. The system is an adaptation of that worked out 
by Miss Ida Ward in her Introduction to the Ibo Language (Cambridge, 1936) and her work, 
The Phonetic and Tonal Structure of Efik (Cambridge, 1933). The chief advantage of this 
system is its freedom from the diacritical marks that otherwise must be used to denote 
the all-important element of significant tone in African words. 

42 These citations are from a paper, Some Problems Involved in the Study of 
the Negroes in the New World with Special Reference to African Survivals, de- 



324 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

livered before a Conference on Negro Studies held in April, 1940, in Washington, 
D. C, under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies. 
48 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, Suriname Folk-Lore, pp. 116 ff. 

44 See pp. 78-81. 

45 Cf. M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, op. cit., "Table of Phonetic Symbols," p. xi. 

46 G. Merrick in "Notes on Hausa and Pidgin English" (Journal African Society, 
Vol. VIII, 1908, pp. 304 f.), says: "Intention is expressed by the idea of motion. 
Example 'I will do' by 4 I go do/ . . . The above remarks though probably ap- 
plicable to other African languages, have been written with speech reference to 
Hausa." 

47 We take our examples from Martha Beckwith, "Jamaica Anansi Stories" 
(Mem. American Folk-Lore Society, Vol. XVII, New York, 1924), and the page 
numbers in parenthesis after each quoted phrase refer to this work. In this, as 
in the lists that follow, only the first occurrence of a given idiom is referred to, 
though all those we cite are quite common. Following the example, we give the 
corresponding taki-taki equivalent. 

48 "Folk-Tales of Andros Island, Bahamas," Mem. American Folk-Lore Society, 
Vol. XVIII, New York, 1918. 

49 "Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina," ibid., Vol. XVI, New York, 
1923. 

50 The footnoted explanation of "too" as "a characteristic use for 'very* " exactly 
corresponds to the way Suriname Negroes employ tumusi. 

51 Note the use of the word "meat" with the meaning of "live animal." 

52 Once again the use of "one" for "alone" is to be remarked. 

68 Tribute must be paid to the insight with which Hugo Schuchardt ("Die 
Sprache der Saramakkaneger in Surinam," Vcrh. dcr K. Akad. van Wctcnschap- 
pen te Amsterdam, Ajd. Letterkunde [n.s.], Vol. XIV, No. 6, 1914, pp. ix-xiv), 
discerned the resemblances between the speech of various groups of Negroes in the 
New World and taki-taki, on the basis of a vastly smaller amount of data than 
is available today. 

54 There are the tales of Cronise and Ward (Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and 
the Other Beef: West African Folk Tales, New York, 1903), and it is worthy of 
remark that several students of New World Negro dialect have noticed correspond- 
ences between the speech recorded in these tales and that of the Negroes which 
those students have investigated. The paper by Merrick is perhaps the only study 
extant of West African pidgin as such. 

55 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, "Tales in Pidgin English from Nigeria," Journal 
of American Folk-Lore, Vol. XLIV, 1931. 

56 Not enough data in Negro-French were available when this section was writ- 
ten to make the sort of comparisons we make here between Negro-English in 
Africa and in the New World. Our experience with Negro-French in Dahomey, 
however, compared with the few examples of Haitian French we were able to find 
in the literature, and with the sketch of (Louisiana) Creole grammar by Fortier 
(Louisiana Studies, New Orleans, 1894, pp. 125 ff.), convinced us that study would 
show a unity of Negro-French wherever spoken, that would be akin to that of 
Negro-English and, more, that a basic similarity in idiom between Negro-French 
and Negro-English would also be found to exist. These assumptions have been 
more than validated by the texts published by Parsons ("Folk-Lore of the Antilles, 
French and English," Mem. American Folk-Lore Society, Vol. XXV, Pt. I, New 
York, 1933), which appeared while the work from which the above section is quoted 
was in press, by her unpublished manuscripts of Haitian tales, which we have been 
privileged to examine, and by the findings of our own field work in Haiti during the 
summer of 1934. 

57 M. J. and F. S. Herskovits, "Tales in Pidgin English from Ashanti," Journal 
of American Folk-Lore, 50:52-101, 1937 (issued 1938). 

M The use of the word "cover" having the sense of "hide" is to be remarked. 



REFERENCES 325 

w Again one finds the use of "skin" for "body." One morning our steward-boy, 
after receiving a message from the chief of Asokore for us, translated as follows: 
"De chief he sen' hask how you sikin be tiday." It was a formal inquiry about 
our health. 

60 "Bush-meat," i.e., wild animals. 

61 Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef: West African Folk Tales, pp. 
32 ff. 

*- In transcribing Twi, the same phonetic system employed for laki-taki has been used 
except that an apostrophe here stands for a glottal stop, and that tonal marks (a = high, 
a = middle, a = low, & = middle to low, & = middle to high, a = high to low) are 
employed. 

63 Folk Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina, p. xx. On p. xvii, n. 5, similarities in 
idiom between the Sea Island speech and that of Sierra Leone, as recorded by Cronisc 
and Ward, are cited. 

4 D. Westermann, A Study of the Ewe Language, London, 1930, p. 50. The examples 
cited for Ewe also apply in the case of F^, the related language of Dahomey, as can be 
seen by referring to Maurice Dclafosse, Manuel Dahomccn, Paris, 1894, passim. 

66 M. B. Wilkie, Ga Grammar, Notes, and Exercises, London, 1930, p. 30. 

67 W. T. Balmer and F. C. F. Grant, A Grammar of the Fanti-Akan Language, 
London, 1921, p. 24. 

68 Abbe Pierre Bouche, Conies Nagos, Melusine, Vol. II, 1884-1885, cols. 129-130. 
Other Yoruba examples may be found in J. A. de Gaye and W. S. Beecroft, 
Yoruba Grammar (2nd ed.), London, 1923, passim. 

69 Westermann, op. cit., p. 43. 

70 Wilkie, op. cit., p. 7. 

71 Balmer and Grant, op. cit., pp. 62 fT. 

72 S. Johnson, The History of the Yorubas, from the Earliest Times to the Be- 
ginning of the Protectorate, London, 1921, p. xxxvi ; Gaye and Beecroft, op. cit. t 
p. 8. 

73 Westermann, op. cit., pp. 52 ff. 

74 Wilkie, op. cit., p. 29. 

75 Balmer and Grant, op. cit., chap xi. 

78 Thus Philip V. King ("Some Hausa Idioms," Journal African Society, Vol. 
VIII, 1908, p. 196) states of Hausa, "The absence of any proper comparative is 
one of the weakest spots in the language. The English . . . 'too many,' 'too good/ 
etc., can only be rendered by the use of the verb fi 'to pass or excell' . . . 'He is 
cleverer than you' Ya fika nankali (lit., 'He surpasses you as to sense'). . . ." 

7 7 Westermann, op. cit., p. no. 

78 Ibid., p. 119. 
lbid., pp. I26f. 

80 Ibid., p. 129. 

81 Cf., for example, Balmer and Grant, op. cit., p. 14, sections 12 and 13, for their 
remarks on the "glide" in Fanti. 

82 M. J. Herskovits, "What Has Africa Given America?" The New Republic, 
84:92-94, 1935- 

83 Personal communication. 

84 G. B. Johnson, Folk Culture on St. Helena Island, South Carolina; and C. 
Brooks, The Relation of the Alabama-Georgia Dialect to the Provincial Dialects 
of Great Britain. 

85 Jules Faine, Philologie crcole, Port-au-Prince, 1936. 



Appendix 
DIRECTIVES FOR FURTHER STUDY 



Once the force of the myth of the Negro past is recognized, and the 
limitations of analyses made in terms of its sanctions understood, new 
directives in investigation become apparent, and detailed reconsidera- 
tion of the published sources comes to yield new values when employed 
as part of a broad historical, ethnological, and geographical attack. That 
the work done in accordance with this newer approach has merely 
tapped the surface of the rich store of data that awaits future study has 
been emphasized again and again in these pages and is pointed by the 
fact that so many important and numerous Negro communities, both 
in Africa and the New World, are not known at all, or that no rounded 
study of Negro life in the United States based on competent knowledge 
of comparative materials has ever been made. 

The primary requirement of Negro research prosecuted along the lines 
of the approach that has already proved so fruitful is the fundamental 
one of amassing data sufficient for comprehensive comparative studies. 
In spite of the magnitude of the field, however, the nature of the prob- 
lem is such that from the research point of view it may be regarded 
as a multiple unit, each project being self-contained and of scientific 
significance by and of itself as well as integrating into the plan as a 
whole. Thus, a monograph resulting from the study of a West African 
tribe has the value of any ethnographic contribution; oriented toward 
the analysis of Negro acculturation it becomes of double value in that 
it also gives further insight into other materials bearing on this prob- 
lem. The study of physical types of the New World extends our knowl- 
edge of race-crossing and the reaction of the human physique to a new 
environment at the same time that it gives added information as to the 
changes in physical type of the Negroes in a new habitat and under 
contact with persons of different race. Research into linguistic prob- 
lems, or a study of dancing in a given area, or investigation into reli- 
gious behavior similarly documents the study of Negro acculturation, 
and through this of acculturative processes in general, while adding to 
the materials available for the study of language as a whole, or of danc- 
ing, or of comparative religion. 

In outlining a series of projects to be studied, therefore, the broadest 
possible attack, as to both geographical spread and interdisciplinary 

326 



DIRECTIVES FOR FURTHER STUDY 327 

approach, will be envisaged. Local studies are conceived as feeding into 
comparative analyses; ethnographic studies are regarded as the basis 
for detailed investigations of single facets of culture; documentary 
and other historical researches are conceived as aiding the search for 
definite materials concerning the slave trade or providing more precise 
information as to the social background within the frame of which 
acculturation proceeded. Ethnographic studies, first in Africa and then 
in the New World, will be outlined. Suggestions will be given for com- 
parative research in specific aspects of culture, or into language or 
physical type, over wider areas, and a series of historical and psycho- 
logical investigations will be indicated. 

In making the suggestions for research that follow, the exigencies 
of present international tensions are ignored. This is not done because 
of any retreat from reality, but because, in outlining scientific programs, 
objectives may be set down as ideally conceived without reference to 
the very real obstacles placed in their way as a result of those numerous 
considerations which, in peace as well as in war, must be taken into 
account in realizing any considerable program of studies. Therefore, if 
research in Africa is set down, or in New World colonies of warring 
European nations, this is done with a full realization of the difficulties 
of achieving these projects at the moment. And though one may for 
the present but express the hope that these difficulties will be resolved 
in the not too distant future, the clarification of aims and concepts 
that comes when a program of studies is painted in broad strokes will 
in any event have been achieved. 



I. Ethnographic Studies in Africa. It has been apparent from the 
discussion in the preceding pages that far more detailed knowledge of 
tribes inhabiting the region from which the slaves were taken must be 
had than is at present in hand. While such surveys as are required for 
certain portions of the New World are not needed, since the major 
outlines of West African culture are known, the lacunae in rounded 
accounts of the more important tribes in the region are considerable, 
and constitute a gap it is essential to fill. In these studies, it is envisaged 
that particular attention will be paid to those phases of culture that have 
most persisted among New World Negroes, especially to such specific 
details as names of deities, or the organization and functioning of co- 
operative groupings, or the sanctions underlying family and sub 
structure. 

The geographical spread of these investigations should in the main be 
confined to the coastal forested areas of the west coast where slaving 
was most intense, with test studies to be made in certain regions where 
slavers may have drawn enough persons to make their influence felt 
somewhere in the New World. 

a. Senegal. Despite the importance of operations from the mouth 



328 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

of the Senegal River during the early days of slavery, no modern 
rounded study of a Senegalese folk exists. It is therefore suggested 
that the cultures of some subgroups of each of the two following peo- 
ples be carefully studied: 

1. Wolof 

2. Mandingo 

b. Sierra Leone. The extent to which Sierra Leone was a source of 
slaves is a matter of dispute. That slavers called at this colony to re- 
plenish stocks of food and water is well known, and during the latter 
period of the trade substantial purchases of human beings were made 
from the region. Two groups in this area should therefore be studied 
in detail, so as to put on record the patterns prevalent in the region : 

1. Temne 

2. Mende 

c. Liberia. The "Grain Coast" of the earlier writers, this area is like- 
wise not thought to have contributed to any great extent to the peopling 
of Negro America. The coastal region was inhabited by tribes whose 
hostility toward the slavers prevented effective raids on their popula- 
tions. Two studies are needed for this area, to be made among the folk 
most often referred to. This will assure a continuous distribution of 
materials and check possible New World retentions which otherwise 
might be overlooked : 

1. Vai 

2. Kru 

d. Ivory Coast. The western part of this territory, like Liberia, con- 
tributed little to the slave population, but as we move eastward and 
approach the Gold Coast, operations of the slavers were greater. Care- 
ful study should be made of the Agni, who are of Ashanti stock, but 
whose development in recent years, especially in terms of relative dis- 
turbance of earlier custom, has been different in this French colony from 
that of the related Ashanti because of the fortuitous circumstance of 
drawing boundary lines in the course of the partition of Africa. One 
of the other smaller units, more characteristic of Ivory Coast ethnic 
differentiation, should also be given attention, as a check study, prefer- 
ably where some prior materials can be employed as a foundation : 

1. Agni 

2. Guro (or Gagu) 

e. The Sudan. Passing for the moment to the interior tribes of West 
Africa, it is important that certain studies be made to further the evalua- 
tion of New World data in the light of materials from these Islamic and 
quasi-Islamic cultures, which are known to have contributed in varying 
degrees to the peopling of the New World. Since the tribal units in this 
area are comprised in kingdoms of large dimensions, exact localities for 



DIRECTIVES FOR FURTHER STUDY 329 

such studies remain for later determination. The works of Tauxier in 
the area give background which should be of help to the ethnographer; 
the researches of professional anthropologists studies of the Tallensi 
by M. and S. L. Fortes, of the Nupe by Nadel, of the Hausa by Green- 
berg, and of the Jukun by Meek should, of course, be fully utilized : 

1. Fula 

2. Mossi 

3. Bornu 

f. Gold Coast. A solid foundation of fact concerning the Ashanti, 
the outstanding people of this area, is to be had in the volumes of R. S. 
Rattray, to which reference has been made many times in these pages. 
However, systematic information is lacking regarding the coastal peo- 
ples, who, though related in their culture to the inland Ashanti, exhibit 
local differences which richly merit investigation, especially in view of 
the leading role played by this area in the slave trade: 

1. Fanti 

2. Gq. 

g. Togoland and Dahomey. In the main, these two present-day col- 
onies, in so far as their lower forested regions are concerned, are to 
be regarded as an ethnic unit in the same sense as they are a linguistic 
one. Studies made by Spieth for the Ho-Ewe give many data, and the 
Dahomeans have already been studied as a part of the program of 
Negro research being outlined here. The immediate coastal area of the 
two colonies has not. however, been given equal consideration ; in view 
of its importance both in the literature and in terms of survivals in the 
West Indies, one study should be made in a strategic locality : 

I. Popo 

h. Nigeria. The results of research by Bascom in Ife and by Harris 
among the Ibo await publication to make available materials gathered 
in the light of modern methods and with the implications of New 
World Negro studies in mind. However, this vast and densely popu- 
lated area needs further study if the outlines of its ethnography are to 
be known, and further research is necessary among tribes in the for- 
ested belt who as yet have not been the subject of intensive treatment: 

1. Egba (Yoruba of Abeokuta) 

2. Wari 

3. Benin 

i. Cameroons. The studies of Tessmann, though giving materials on 
which to build, are riot in themselves sufficient to provide information 
needed to assess the presence or absence in the New World of influences 



330 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

from this area. One tribal study would, however, provide this if Avail- 
able to supplement the data already gathered : 

i. Yaunde 

j. French Equatorial Africa (Gaboon) (Loango). The importance 
of this region, as a part of the Congo basin, is considerable, and one 
study should be made here to give a rounded intensive portrayal of a 
tribe typical of the region: 

i. Fang 

k. Belgian Congo. A good lead for the studies so badly needed from 
this area is given in the works of Rinchon, where tribal designations of 
certain slaves are mentioned. In view of the importance of the Congo 
Negroes in the New World, and especially because so slight a number 
of discernible traits seem to have been left by them in New World 
Negro cultures where many survivals of the customs of other tribes 
are to be found, particular attention should be given this region, both 
coastal and interior. A somewhat extensive series of studies is there- 
fore indicated: 

1. Mayombe 

2. Bakongo 

3. Bambala 

4. Bamfumungu 

5. Bapende 

6. Bapoto (Mondonga) 

I. Angola. This area, today a Portuguese colony, was of special 
importance as a source for Brazilian slaves, and is thus another region 
from which it is imperative to have detailed information on at least one 
or two tribal groups. Hambley's work on the Ovimbundu is available 
for the central portion, and Estermann's papers for the southern, but 
since, according to most accounts, slaves were principally obtained from 
the northern reaches of the present colony, the most likely sources of 
significant data would thus be tapped in studies of tribes living in that 
area: 

1. Bambanga 

2. Balunda 

II. Ethnographic Studies in the New World. 

a. Brazil. The importance of Brazil does not need to be stressed 
again here, nor the substantial progress made by Brazilian scholars who 
have studied the Negro cultures of that country. Their preoccupation with 
religion and folklore, however, leaves work to be done in making avail- 
able facts concerning other phases of the life of these people, and 
hence further research is needed in the areas of principal Negro settle- 



DIRECTIVES FOR FURTHER STUDY 331 

ment. As envisaged, this research is to be devoted to obtaining rounded 
descriptions that will supplement and provide a background of secular 
practice for the full materials bearing on the religious life now at hand : 

1. Pernambuco 

2. Bahia 

3. Rio de Janeiro 

b. Guiana. Though studies have been made of the Negro inhabitants 
of Dutch Guiana, the materials to be obtained from the French and 
British parts of this region have not been analyzed. Important groups 
of Negroes are to be found in these colonies, and the mutual check on 
the data already in hand to be provided by such studies will be valuable 
in the extreme : 

1. Boni Bush Negroes (Cayenne) 

2. Coastal Negroes, British Guiana 

c. The Lesser Antilles. The great variation of Negro custom in these 
islands should be made the subject of extensive research, since full data 
from them are needed if the methodological advantages to be derived 
from the use of a scale of intensity of Africanisms is to be most ade- 
quately exploited. Research such as has been carried on in certain of 
the islands should have its counterpart in others as yet unstudied ; and 
while a complete coverage is not desirable, a far greater proportion of 
them must be investigated than has been studied to date : 

1. Tobago 

2. St. Vincent 

3. Barbadoes 

4. Martinique 

5. Dominica 

6. Guadeloupe 

7. Antigua 

8. Nevis (St. Kitts) 

d. The Greater Antilles. These great islands have large Negro popu- 
lations, and their study is of especial importance since, except for 
Jamaica, here one finds the materials with which to check the effects of 
Spanish as against French and English influence on Negro life in the 
Caribbean. Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti have been studied to varying 
degrees, but of Negro life in Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico little is 
known. Work in Cuba has been almost entirely concerned with religious 
life, and especially the functioning of magic; in Jamaica, studies have 
either dealt with folklore and folk customs of the general population, 
or with the Maroons ; hence the rounded study of an ordinary Negro 
community in this island is dictated : 

i. Puerto Rico 



332 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

2. Santo Domingo 

3. Jamaica 

4. Cuba 

e. The Bahamas and Bermuda. These represent special cases, the 
first in isolation from whites and the second in contact with them. 
Studies in the folklore of Andros Island would seem to dictate this as a 
logical starting point for the study of the former, especially since on the 
smaller keys the population is not large enough to give results of 
significance : 

1. Bahama Islands (Andros Is.) 

2. Bermuda 

f. Latin America. In this vast area, the terra incognita of Negro life, 
projects can be sketched only in terms of the vaguest knowledge con- 
cerning such elementary facts as the distribution and numerical strength 
of its Negro populations. One group, however, may be set down at the 
outset as a primary objective, since the one sketch of it that has been 
published indicates its great significance : 

1. Black Caribs (British Honduras). 

Aside from this group, however, proposals for definite projects, ex- 
cept in terms of the countries wherein it is known that Negro populations 
reside, require the findings of a survey that will give the necessary pre- 
liminary information. The need for such general facts makes this one 
of the most urgent requirements of Negro research in the New World, 
and this project should be envisaged as an undertaking that will not 
attempt any rounded studies, but be oriented so as to furnish a guide 
for later research. 

2. Survey of the Negro in Latin America. Dependent on the results 
of this survey for specific localities to be studied, the following series 
of field analyses should be looked forward to in terms of its findings, 
since all the countries indicated are known to have substantial Negro 
populations : 

(a) Mexico (east coast) 

(b) Mexico (west coast) 

(c) Honduras 

(d) Nicaragua 

(e) Panama 

(f) Venezuela 

(g) Colombia 
(h) Bolivia 
(i) Peru 

g. United States. In this country, the greatest need is for research 
in Negro communities wherein the life will be studied in all its phases 
and with full regard for the implications of those traditional values that, 



DIRECTIVES FOR FURTHER STUDY 333 

as has been pointed out, may be considered in the light of similarities 
in the African background. Such studies should not be oriented toward 
the mere antiquarian point of view implied in the phrase "folk custom," 
since in most cases this results in the collecting of an uncorrelated series 
of folk oddities; they should not be too sharply focused on the "race 
problem," since this results in the kind of purely statistical or socio- 
logical analysis of which a great number are already to be had. Life 
should be depicted in all its phases economic, political, social, religious, 
artistic as an integrated whole, to the extent that integration is 
achieved; demographic and statistical data should be fully used so as 
to indicate the place of the community in its larger setting, but the 
values of this larger setting must not be permitted to obscure the drives 
which may set off a population from other groups in the same larger 
society. 

Above all, the historical point of view outlined in the discussion of 
Africanisms must be made a primary element in the methodological 
approach, since only this will permit interpretations to be made on the 
basis of the background of the people as well as from their modes of 
life since their arrival in this country. In their method, these studies 
should also be in full accord with the procedures employed in studying 
the West Indian, South American, and West African communities men- 
tioned in earlier projects with only such modifications as are made 
necessary because of the special conditions obtaining in this country. 
Areas tapped should be representative of the country as a whole, since, 
from the point of view of acculturation, it is as important to study com- 
munities where the process has proceeded farthest as well as where it 
has occasioned eddies and backwaters in the cultural stream. It is 
scarcely necessary to indicate that work already published should be 
drawn on to the fullest extent, though it should also be made clear 
that, simply because work has been done in a given community, this 
should not be a reason either for studying that community again or for 
avoiding it in favor of an unstudied group. Work should not be re- 
stricted to rural groups, since there is every reason to believe that folk 
sanctions are living factors in large urban centers, North or South. 

The projects which follow are, in the main, left indefinite as to exact 
locale ; where cities are indicated, the groups in the cities most impor- 
tant to study are not indicated except in the most general terms. The 
problem of an optimum locality and the best groups with which to work 
in the United States, no less than anywhere else, is a matter always best 
determined by a field worker on the basis of his preliminary sampling 
of a region or a community. 

Studies in the South: 

i. Sea Islands (a locality as yet unstudied, to check and expand 
available knowledge) 



334 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

2. Virginia 

(a) a rural community 

(b) Richmond 

3. Georgia 

(a) a rural community 

(b) Savannah 

4. Mississippi (a rural community) 

5. Alabama 

(a) a rural community 

(b) Birmingham 

6. Louisiana 

(a) New Orleans 

(b) a community in the Delta country 

Studies in the North: 

Groups of contrasting socio-economic status in: 

7. Philadelphia 

8. Detroit 

9. Cincinnati 

10. St. Louis 1 
Smaller communities: 

11. Muncie, Indiana 

12. Albany, New York 

13. Springfield, Ohio 

14. Springfield, Illinois 

Studies in the West and Southwest: 

15. Dallas, Texas 

16. El Paso, Texas 

17. Los Angeles 

1 8. San Francisco 

19. Portland 

III. Studies in Special Fields. Under this heading are to be indicated 
those comparative researches for which special techniques are required, 
either for collecting or for analyzing the data or both. The anthropolo- 
gist, if at all competent, is equipped to obtain in adequate outline the 
main features of the cultures he must study, to analyze in detail most 
of their institutionalized aspects, and to carry out adequate discussions of 
the comparative analyses required to give his research meaningful 
background. In the special fields considered here, however, persons with 
particular training are needed. The general problem toward which their 
studies are directed should be at the forefront of their thinking, and this, 
and the cultural matrix in which the materials of their interests are 
lodged, should shape the frame of reference within which the details 

1 New York and Chicago are omitted because of the numerous data already 
available, which will become of full use when these other studies have been made. 



DIRECTIVES FOR FURTHER STUDY 335 

of their work are projected. This being the case, their contributions, if 
only because of the precise nature of the materials with which they deal, 
should be of the highest value as an aid in assessing data concerning 
aspects of culture which do not require such specialized treatment. 

a. Physical Anthropology. The problems arising out of the study of 
Negro physical type have not been given a great deal of attention in 
these pages, except to indicate the manner in which a study of race- 
crossing in the Negro population of the United States constituted the 
catalyzing agent in bringing into being the research program under dis- 
cussion here. The importance of studies in this field, however, for an 
understanding of the reaction of physical types to new environmental 
conditions and, even more, for a comprehension of the mechanisms of 
racial crossing, is of the highest order ; and such materials will also con- 
tribute confirmatory materials in the study of Negro provenience. Two 
projects for amassing data which should make such contributions are 
therefore proposed ; both are designed to fill in what are at the present 
time almost complete blanks in our knowledge of Negro physical types. 

1. Measurements of African Negroes. This research envisages the 
study of adequate samples in all the African tribes mentioned where 
suggestions were given of folk among whom research in ethnology 
should be carried on. These samples should include both adult males 
and females, and as many entire family groups, including children, as 
it is possible to measure. 

2. Measurements of New World Negroes. As in the preceding case, 
all the New World areas mentioned in foregoing projects should be 
covered. Here adequate samples of family groups are most important, 
though the fundamental requirement of having adequate numbers of 
adult males and females should not be slighted. Groups representing 
different degrees of racial mixture must be measured, since the essential 
character of the New World Negro physical type is that he represents 
to a great extent the result of crossing. 

Projects in physical anthropology should include studies that care 
for one further important problem. The growth of Negro children, 
especially in the light of assertions regarding the absence or existence of 
racial growth curves, should be carefully investigated. The immediate 
practical purpose to be served by such a project would be to establish 
growth norms for Negro children, with the question in mind of deter- 
mining whether or not these are accepted norms for white children. At 
the present time, all that school nurses, public health officials, and others 
have to guide them are standard constants for growth ; and much diffi- 
culty is experienced when dealing with Negro children who, it has been 
observed, tend to differ from these white norms even where malnutrition 
is ruled out as a possible contributory factor. Hence as a final project in 
the field of physical anthropology, to be carried out in the United States 
except where, as a check, effective work can be prosecuted in those parts 



336 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

of the West Indies where children of unmixed Negro ancestry and known 
age can be procured in adequate numbers, the following is indicated : 

3. Studies in the Growth of Negro Children. 

b. Historical Studies. The importance of further research into the 
documentary history of slavery, and of plantation life, has been made 
amply evident in the discussions of the preceding pages. 

1. Studies in the Tribal Origin of Slaves. Students with an adequate 
background of African ethnology and African geography should turn 
anew to the documents and contemporary published works so as to ex- 
tract from them more information regarding Negro provenience of the 
type that has already been found of such great value. Collections in 
parts of France other than Nantes should be investigated, especially in 
Marseilles ; in England, especially Hull and Liverpool ; and in Holland, 
Portugal, and Scandinavia. Similarly, documents should be searched for 
and analyzed ; such collections as the large body of material preserved in 
Antigua will yield much badly needed information concerning sources 
of Negroes that will effectively supplement what is already in hand. 

2. Studies in the Social History of Plantation Negroes. The absence 
of descriptions of slave life presents a great handicap in studying the 
history of the Negro. The nature of the slave family, the leisure-time 
activities of the slaves, if any, types of belief held by slaves, slave diet, 
manners and customs of the slaves these are some of the points on 
which specific information would be of greatest use. Material of this 
nature should be obtained for as many regions of the New World as 
possible, since knowledge of these forms of slave life in the West Indies 
may well lead to new insight into the mode of existence of slaves in 
the United States. 

3. Studies in the History of Slave Revolt. This subject has barely 
been tapped, especially in so far as revolts outside the United States 
are concerned. Its great importance in the implications it holds for atti- 
tudes toward the Negro makes it paramount that it be adequately inves- 
tigated. Detailed studies of individual revolts, both large and small, are 
indicated, these to include the mode of operations, the expressions of 
opinion on the part of revolters, immediate causes of the revolt, and atti- 
tudes of the whites in these situations. Such detailed research should 
be followed by more comprehensive findings. 

4. Spirit Possession in Europe. This is a specialized problem which 
must be given adequate attention if the fullest understanding of the 
interaction between whites and Negroes exposed to the revivalist pat- 
tern is to be understood. It is essentially a project for a specialist in 
European history, who has enough psychological training to compre- 
hend the drives to be inferred from the source materials, especially 
from descriptions of possessed individuals. Knowledge of African forms 
of religious hysteria is not necessary, since the results of this study will 



DIRECTIVES FOR FURTHER STUDY 337 

be of greater value if it is restricted to European possession, without 
reference to any comparative materials. 

c. Linguistic Studies. As in the case of physical anthropology, a series 
of projects in West Africa and the New World are indicated under this 
heading. 

1. Research in West Africa. Because of the highly technical nature 
of this research, it is not possible to expect those conducting ethno- 
graphic research to record requisite amounts of linguistic data, espe- 
cially in view of the complexities of the Sudanese tongues. In the main, 
a smaller number of such studies are required than have been indicated 
for the individual cultures to be studied as a whole; for the purpose 
of comparative analysis, one language in each of the areas mentioned as 
requiring such studies should be made, with the addition of Twi (Gold 
Coast), Fg (Dahomey), and Nago (Yoruba), because of the contribu- 
tion made by these peoples to the New World Negro populations and 
to New World Negro culture. 

2. Research in the New World. The problems here differ somewhat 
from more conventional study of primitive languages, since research 
must be concentrated on various dialects of hybrid origin. Negro speech 
should be studied by means of recordings, and of analysis of textual 
materials from Brazil (Negro-Portuguese), two or three of the British 
and French West Indian islands (Negro-English and Negro-French), 
Curasao (Papamiento, a specialized form of Negro-Spanish) and Cuba. 
This work should be collated with analyses of Negro speech already 
made in the Gulla Islands (by Turner) and selected samples of Negro 
modes of speech to be studied elsewhere in the South (Alabama, Vir- 
ginia, and Mississippi); while comparisons should be drawn between 
the local speech habits of whites and Negroes of these regions. Louisiana 
Negro speech (Negro-French) should also be analyzed. In such research, 
care for phonetic and grammatical peculiarities should take a prominent 
place, while the problem of the resolution of significant tone, so impor- 
tant in the structure of West African speech, into nonfunctional special- 
ized forms of modulation in English should be recognized as the press- 
ing field for work it constitutes. 

d. Studies in Music and the Dance. Requisite data for both these 
types of analyses can be obtained without recourse to special field-work 
projects. Field-workers studying cultures in general, if provided with 
motion picture and phonographic recording apparatus, can readily obtain 
the necessary materials for further laboratory study. It is only necessary 
that field-workers be impressed with the need for carefully noting the 
social setting of the songs recorded and the dances photographed not 
alone names and participants, but the meaning of the songs or dances, 
the occasions that inspire them, and their relations to other aspects of 
the culture. This being clone and any good field-worker would do this 



338 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

as a matter of routine method comparative analyses can be set up as 
laboratory projects. That materials of this kind constitute a body of 
data whose study promises significant contributions to our knowledge of 
the processes of cultural change in general has been made evident by the 
many speculations aroused among students of the Negro who, in the 
past, have commented on Negro music and dancing. 
IV. Psychological Studies. 

a. Comparative Studies in Motor Behavior. Materials under this head- 
ing gathered by means of motion pictures, can also be taken by field- 
workers, though a certain amount of firsthand experience in one or two 
Negro cultures is desirable for students who are to analyze the films. 
Not only should such dramatic aspects of Negro life as dancing and 
spirit possession be investigated, but walking, the manner of using the 
hands and facial muscles when speaking, carrying burdens, movements 
made in the course of various industrial occupations, and similar mani- 
festations of behavior. Lying under the level of consciousness, such phe- 
nomena offer materials having a peculiar objectivity in the range of data 
available for acculturation research, and should offer supplementary 
testimony as to its processes and results in terms of variation from 
African norms when correlated with other aspects of Negro behavior. 

b. Comparative Studies in Personality. Projects under this heading 
are included subject to the reservation that an adequate methodology for 
the study of the relation between culture and personality be devised. 
That the acculturative situation often lays a strain on the personalities 
of those who experience it is a reasonable hypothesis to be tested, and 
has been found to have striking validity as manifested in the type of 
socialized ambivalence which characterizes the Haitian peasants. Special 
field studies will be required for such analyses, though the aid to be 
given by an anthropologically trained psychologist in suggesting critical 
institutions and situations to be particularly noted in the localities where 
general ethnographic research is being carried on might be instrumental 
in the collection of useful data from more cultures than would other- 
wise be possible. In the main, however, projects in this field should be 
executed by psychologists either in conjunction with anthropological 
field-workers, or in cultures where a thorough description of the culture 
has previously been made available to them. For whatever the technique 
of such studies in personality, it is apparent that, unless carried on with 
a full realization of their historical and cultural setting, they evaporate 
into subjective evaluations based on points of view peculiar to the society 
to which the student belongs. At the present stage of our knowledge, 
comparative research in this field can be made only when a given psy- 
chologist himself studies a series of cultures ; hence such projects should 
be thought of as each including several parts, the workers to have the 
advantage of field experience most preferably in Africa and the New 



DIRECTIVES FOR FURTHER STUDY 339 

World or, if Africa is not possible, in New World cultures representing 
varying degrees of acculturation. 



It is needless to point out that these data-gathering projects are but 
a step toward the wider objective of understanding the Negro back- 
ground and assessing its changes in the New World. Nor is it necessary 
to detail the matters to which field-workers will be expected to pay spe- 
cial attention in their research. For whatever the desirability, from a 
methodological point of view, of having ethnographic investigations 
molded by a series of questions, yet in these studies certain points, 
ordinarily blanketed by more conventional interests, must be brought to 
the foreground if only because of what we know concerning the deviants 
from white behavior found in the habits of New World Negroes. 

Thus, in the economic field, field-workers would pay attention to vari- 
ous forms of cooperative institutions, and detail the manner in which 
they function. They would gather data concerning the manner of pre- 
paring food, and other aspects of the food quest and consumption com- 
plex so as to throw light on the cuisine that was introduced into the 
various parts of the New World by the Negroes. The role of the an- 
cestral cult in terms of the social sanctions it employs; the drives under- 
lying associations of one kind and another to be encountered in West 
Africa, whether secret or not, and the functions of these societies; the 
attitudes between folk and toward the world at large; friendship in its 
various manifestations all these would receive particular attention on 
the basis of the preliminary findings which, in Africa as in the New 
World, have indicated their importance. The manner in which children 
are trained, and the resulting attitudes toward parents and other rela- 
tives, or the relationships existing within compounds among adults or 
between the members of different compounds; social stratification in 
West Africa and the role of status in conditioning attitudes and be- 
havior; the forms of recreation and the manner of work and attitudes 
toward labor these, again, would take a prominent place along with 
the more customary pursuits of anthropologists in the field, such as the 
study of totemism, or kinship terminology, or details of ritual, or any 
of those numerous other institutions that it is of the highest importance 
to know and understand if the framework of the culture is to be com- 
prehended. 

Each student should be able to compound experience by working in 
a number of Negro cultures, so that he can perceive resemblances which 
would be lost to the newcomer. From a purely practical point of view, 
this is important if only because of the saving of time that results when 
a student familiar with the major sanctions of one culture comes to 
study another of similar background. Field-workers will, again, prefer- 
ably build on materials at hand, for the projects indicated have been 



340 THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST 

sketched with the work already carried on in mind. Thus, if the Virgin 
Islands or the Maroons of Jamaica or the peasants of Haiti have not 
been mentioned as subjects for study, or if certain obvious tribes of 
West Africa have not been specified, it is because previous research 
completed, though in some cases as yet unpublished, may later be tell- 
ingly drawn on. For planning must be predicated on recognition of the 
principle .that, in a field as vast as this, duplication of work means 
serious waste of time and effort. Furthermore, to utilize students who 
have had prior experience, making it possible for them to continue work 
already within the field of their competence and interest, with but the 
reorientation needed to make possible the direct comparison of their 
findings with those of others this, from the point of view of an 
organization most efficient to obtain the desired results, is the optimum. 
As these studies are completed, no matter where, they will provide 
materials that will suggest further leads and make for further enlighten- 
ment as to the cultural adventures of the Negro in his New World 
habitat. That international complications should require abstention for 
a time from studies in Africa is thus not of overwhelming importance. 
For in the United States and in nonbelligerent Latin America, more 
than enough communities are to be found which will require the atten- 
tion of many workers over a considerable period of time. As for West 
Africa, it is at least sufficiently known to permit a comparison with these 
New World societies adequate enough to throw more light on the process 
of New World Negro accommodation than is now to be had. And this, 
in turn, will illuminate research in Africa itself whenever this can be 
resumed. 



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